Stronger together – a real opportunity for Ukraine

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

In the face of the antiquated gunboat diplomacy practiced by Russia vis-à-vis Ukraine, the EU representation in Kyiv has launched a communication programme called ‘Stronger together,' in line with the European aspirations of the Ukrainians, writes Martin Nunn. 

Martin Nunn works for Foley & Nunn in Kyiv.

“As the November deadline for the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement approaches there has been a flurry of activity to pressure, persuade, threaten and cajole the government of Ukraine into seeing the wisdom of Russia’s Customs Union. 

Moscow’s approach has been particularly aggressive in implementing unnecessary customs checks on all Ukrainian imports resulting in long queues at border crossings and even banning the confectionary produce of certain factories owned by prominent Ukrainian politicians. The rhetoric has been bellicose with threats of what will come and how Russia will deal with Ukrainian business if Kiev dares to sign the agreements with the EU.  

The Communist party of Ukraine have invested millions to produced 20 TV commercials designed to frankly distort the reality of Europe today and convince the people that mother Russia is the only solution. Interestingly most Ukrainian TV channels have refused the air the commercials citing legal concerns despite there being a very large inducement. Former political heavyweight Victor Medvedchuk’s, pro-Moscow ‘Ukrainian Choice’ party have diligently followed the Kremlin line even threatening to go into an information ‘war’ with the EU.

In this age of communication one has to question why Moscow has resorted to such antiquated gunboat diplomacy towards a nation that barely 20 years ago shrugged of the yoke of 70 years of Russian domination.  The Kremlin seems to have totally miscalculated the mood of the Ukrainian people treating them more like a vassal state than an independent sovereign nation.

The result has been almost instant indignation that their former Slavic brother could take such an imperial approach.  Even within the Russian dominated cities in the East of Ukraine those that were on the cusp seem to have recognised that Russian domination is not in the interests of the Ukrainian nation.  In fact the Russian attitude has done more to unite the country than to divide it.

At the opening of the Ukrainian Parliament following the summer recess President Yanukovych was unequivocal in his comments.  He virtually ordered deputies to ensure that all the necessary legislation be passed to enable the signing of the agreement at the Vilnius summit and since then parliament has been a hive of activity with five new laws being passed within the first few days.

In the midst of all this upheaval the European Union has injected an element of inspiration.  On the 10th of September at the National Philharmonia Concert hall on European Square in Kyiv the EU with the support of member states launched their ‘Stronger together’ information programme. 

The programme is designed to pull together all the existing projects of the EU and the member states under one ‘Stronger Together’ identity and put across the message that what is being offered to the people of Ukraine is the opportunity for Ukrainians to build Europe in Ukraine using European values, systems and legislation and with the support of the EU, a very different message from the Kremlin bullying and one that appears to be going down well right across the country.

The launch was relaxed, open and transparent. Let me skip the official statements. The presentation continued with short presentations on the economic impact, civil society and the youth of Ukraine and was concluded by the Ukrainian pop icon Siatislav Vakarchk who spoke from the heart when he said that he did not want to be told to chose between his friends and that for him the issue was not about choosing between Europe and Russia but about the values by which he wanted to live.  He said that his most important value was the freedom choose and that all Ukrainians needed to decide by which values they wanted to live, both now in the future.  He received a standing ovation.

If the response of the media has been any gauge of public opinion then the mood is very definitely pro Europe as that within hours of the first news agency articles appearing the internet was flooded with reprints of the articles and lively discussion.  The enthusiasm has continued with hours of national television news broadcasts on the issues, hundreds of internet articles and a steady flow of articles in the media, even politicians are now talking of the opportunity.

Such a media response has not been seen in Ukraine since the height of the Orange revolution almost 10 years ago but then the differences between the pressure from Moscow and the transparent opportunity on offer from the EU could not be more obvious.  The messages of opportunity certainly seem to be resonating with the public thereby creating the dynamic for action in the corridors of power.  Whether it will be enough has yet to be seen.”

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