The events of last year’s Orange Revolution were regarded worldwide as a triumph for democracy. Six months on, however, Ukraine’s future is far from certain.
In response to an invitation from the Club of PEP (Politics, Economic and Philosophy) His Excellency Ihor Mitiukov visited the University to talk about the revolution and Ukraine’s future in Europe.
His Excellency, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK since 2002, previously held positions under then Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. Drawing on a close relationship with the now President Yushchenko, His Excellency was able to give students a valuable insight into the future of Ukrainian politics.
After initially leading last October’s Presidential elections, Mr Yushchenko and his supporters were shocked to find themselves defeated in the second round of voting to Viktor Yanukovych. The ambassador described the gross levels of electoral fraud perpetuated by Yanukovych’s supporters and the reaction of the Ukrainian people to the falsified election. New elections in December 2004 saw Yushchenko elected as President.
The battle for the Presidency split the Ukraine in two. Yushchenko represented the desires of western Ukraine for further integration into Europe and eventually the EU. The ambassador described how the Ukraine is “now a member of the family of European nations”. By contrast, Yanukovych represented the old order of the Russian-orientated east of the country.
These divisions leave the new administration with the problem of how to incorporate the eastern provinces into Yushchenko’s dream of a Ukraine integrated into Europe.
The ambassador talked of “two different mentalities” and of “two different visions” effectively dividing Ukraine. It will be a hard task for Yushchenko to unite these.
Whilst calling for closer European integration Yushchenko must consider Ukraine’s relationship with Russia. Yanukovych was the pro-Russian candidate and received support from the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The bitter nature of the election has left relations with Russia sour.
For Yushchenko, further European integration is essential for Ukraine to enable its political and economic development. To the ambassador, a close ally of Yushchenko, “Ukraine is a European nation” sharing a common vision with the rest of Europe.
Already Yushchenko is introducing constitutional reforms to bring Ukraine further into line with Europe and allow closer relations.
However there are problems, with the rejection of the European Union constitution and the lack of popularity regarding further enlargement.
Ukrainian entry into the EU, therefore, does not look likely in the near future. Furthermore, with Ukraine’s withdrawal of its forces from Iraq, America’s support for Ukraine to join NATO is cooling.
His Excellency Ihor Mitiukov’s visit came at a time of promise but also uncertainty for his country. Whilst further integration into Europe seems a certainty, obstacles remain.
But such problems, however, are not necessarily insurmountable, as long as Yushchenko can introduce democratic reforms and in some way start to deal with corruption. If such targets can be achieved then integration into Europe seems certain. Certain, that is for Ukraine. But with the current political climate, Europe may not be able to be as welcoming as Ukraine would like and His Excellency Ihor Mitiukov is perhaps aware of this. For Ukraine the future may be bright but there are many problems still to face.