Is Ukraine in love with the EU?

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It seems that the media would like us to believe that there is one nation still left in Europe genuinely in love with the EU: Ukraine. After all, who could doubt the existence of such love? Are not all the videos and photos from Kiev showing thousands of brave Ukrainians fighting, despite the freezing temperature, under the banner of twelve stars against the forces of the anti-EU darkness?

In truth, the story of Ukraine’s withdrawal from the association negotiations with the EU is not that simple. For a start, the polls conducted in the last ten years have consistently shown that the popular support in Ukraine for the EU membership is around 50%, which is a relatively low number for a poor pre-accession country.

Above all, the belief that in Ukraine pro-EU forces are fighting with anti-EU forces is not just a simplification, but also a complete misconception. It is actually anti-Russian forces from Western Ukraine fighting with pro-Russian forces from Eastern Ukraine – this is of course another simplification, but one much closer to the truth. Pro-EU Ukrainians are to a large extent pro-EU because they see (rightly or not) in the EU an ally against Russia, not because they dearly embrace the EU “core values”. Suffice to say much of the “pro-EU” forces are composed of radical Ukrainian nationalists worshipping a man who allied himself with the Nazis and is seen as a war criminal, Stepen Bandera. For these people the EU is not an end in itself, but rather an instrument to be used in the internal struggle for political power.

Admittedly, it is not impossible that support for the EU will rise following the Russia’s hardened “near abroad” stance towards Ukraine, which puts in question the sovereignty of the country. At the same time, the EU’s demand to release from prison the former PM of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, is the EU equivalent to the Russian approach. One cannot but agree with Yanukovych saying: “What does the European Union have to do with this? Is the European Union a court?”. Moreover, the EU development aid offer had been certainly insufficient to counteract the possible Russian retaliatory economic actions, for which reason it has been quite accurately described by Yanukovych as “humiliating”. To put all the blame for the failure of the negotiations on Russia, and none on the EU, is entirely unjustified, and it seems that most Ukrainians understand this.

All in all, despite what the media message might suggest, there is no widespread sincere love for the EU in Ukraine. And most probably there never will be.

Bartosz Gradecki, Research Assistant

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