Here’s how Ukraine can start playing hardball in foreign policy



Article by: Bradford Betz and Alya Shandra, based on report by Institute of World Policy

25 years after obtaining independence and three years into a military conflict with Russia, Ukraine is still conducting its foreign policy under the principle of ad hoc diplomacy. Meanwhile, the number of challenges the country must face is growing in a geometrical progression. Today, Ukraine is no longer a natural partner of the West as it has been over these 25 years and it must learn to work with many states, from scratch – with some of them, or anew – with the others, and pursue an active and consistent foreign policy.

Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Audit, a project by the Institute of World Policy, sought to fill in the strategic gap by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Ukraine’s foreign policy by questioning Ukrainian and foreign experts, diplomats, and Ukrainian citizens to share their vision. 17 separate studies of Ukraine’s bilateral relations were conducted that included 102 experts from 30 countries, 136 interviews, 1500 participants of public debates and 2000 media publications. Here we provide the report’s main findings.

View from inside: disorganization and Russian aggression are the main problems

According to the report, Ukraine’s internal experts see the lack of consistency, weak diplomatic corps and lack of ambassadors in key countries, and conflict with Russia as their most pressing problems. But they positively view the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU and the international support they’ve received in containing Russian aggression. The global trends that most alarm Ukraine are the presidency of Donald Trump and weakened consolidation in the European Union.

Ukrainians believe that they can most positively contribute to the global and regional stability by carrying out reforms and containing Russian aggression.

View from outside: corruption and lack of reforms are the main problems


Snapshot from the report

Foreign experts see Ukraine’s main problems to be its internal policy (namely, implementing reforms and overcoming corruption), the conflict with Russia, and a lack of a clear foreign policy strategy. Similar to the Ukrainian experts, they believe the global trends that will have the biggest impact on Ukraine are Trump’s presidency, the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, and the unpredictability of Russia’s regime.

But the experts believe that Ukraine is precisely the case where one should start with herself in order to change the world.

Ukraine could influence conflict resolution in other states, particularly through peacekeeping missions abroad, driving reconciliation between East and West, stabilization of relations between Russia and the EU.

Time for Ukraine to see its intrinsic value

Foreign and domestic experts differed radically in their assessment of how domestic reforms impact foreign policy: for foreigners, corruption and delays with reforms constitute the problem number one, while only one Ukrainian respondent gave a similar answer.

But apart from that, foreign and domestic experts view Ukraine’s added value differently, too. For the foreigners, it is Ukraine itself, first and foremost, as a model of positive transformation: implementation of reforms and the fight against corruption. The Ukrainians are mostly inclined to think that, for the world, the key benefit from Ukraine lies in curbing the aggression by Russia, including on a global level.

But there’s two things both camps agree on: Trump as US president, as well as weakened consolidation within the EU and the spread of Euroscepticism, are sure to have an impact on Ukraine’s prospects on the international arena.

Ukraine needs a foreign policy strategy, its ambassadors say

Ukrainian ambassadors stand next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the August 2016 meeting. Photo: MFA Ukraine

Ukrainian ambassadors stand next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the 22-24 August 2016 meeting. Photo: MFA Ukraine

The IWP conducted an anonymous survey of 6 questions assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Ukraine. Out of 83 Ukrainian ambassadors that were sent the questionnaire, only 34 responded – a sign that only a small fraction of the diplomatic service is ready for an open discussion. Remember, these are the people who are conducting the everyday foreign policy of Ukraine in their countries of service.

It turns out that the number one problem restricting their capability to promote Ukraine’s interests are internal issues: the lack of progress in reforms, as well as corruption and political scandals, which directly impacts Ukraine’s image. Additionally, the entire diplomatic service doesn’t have enough financial and logistics support.

Apart from that, they named a lack of foreign policy strategy with clear priorities and ways of promoting the state and mentioned a problem all too common for Ukraine – when private businesses interests too often prevail over national ones. Right now, there is poor communication between authorities in the implementation of foreign policy objectives.

When there is a lack of strategy, look to the lack of people developing a strategy. The ambassadors noted that the structure of the Ministry itself currently lacks any powerful analytical department that would be involved in long-term planning, identify of critical objectives and ways to reach them.

Surprisingly, Russian aggression ranked near the bottom of concerns. This may, as the audit states, indicate that Ukrainian diplomats are aware that the key reason for an inefficient foreign policy stems from within, and their desire to change the situation.

In this, they are closer to the opinions of foreign experts, who also noted that corruption is the biggest problem.

Patriotism – good for diplomats, useless for investments

And the strongest feature of Ukraine’s foreign policy? Patriotism, it turns out. The diplomatic corps, with meager financial support and ample bureaucratic and institutional problems, is boosted by the awareness of the seriousness of the threats and challenges faced by Ukraine, with the desire to selflessly serve their state becoming nearly the only incentive to perform one’s duties diligently.

In this, the diplomatic corps is a “miniature Ukraine” of sorts, where many an analyst has named a strong civil society as its greatest asset.

But patriotism isn’t enough for foreign investments. To attract them, Ukraine will have to make serious reforms. Until then, individual ambassadors will determine progress rather than the system as a whole. Nevertheless, Russian aggression has inadvertently mobilized the Ukrainian diplomats to find creative solutions and use every opportunity to strengthen and protect Ukraine’s positions.

What the ambassadors would change

  • Introduce strategic planning, identify the short- and medium-term primary goals.
  • Reform the structure and decision-making system of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focus on results not process, develop a well-thought-out and systematic personnel policy.
  • Increase financial support for the diplomatic service.
  • Improve information support for the diplomats’ activities, cut on bureaucracy and abandon a centralised approach to the implementation of foreign policy.
  • Strengthen the economic component of Ukrainian diplomacy and promote Ukrainian exporters
  • Strengthen public diplomacy, in particular, make greater use of cultural diplomacy tools to promote Ukraine abroad, cooperate with Ukrainian communities living abroad.

Time to make new friends but keep the old

While Ukraine’s diplomats noted that Ukraine needs to continue focusing on Euro-Atlantic integration, to be a more active partner of the EU and the U.S. in the international arena, they also stressed that the time is ripe to make new friends – especially those that view Ukraine’s national security as their national security. Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, Norway, Sweden, are all good candidates to establish politico-economic and even defensive alliances. But Ukraine shouldn’t limit itself – the ambassadors say that searching for approaches to states displaying pro-Russian sympathies won’t hurt, as well as for relations with countries in regions that could be potential markets for exports, e.g., Asia or Africa.

To successfully integrate into the Euro-Atlantic security and economic space, Ukraine must demonstrate that it can be a source for peace and stability in the region. This can be summed up with the phrase, a strong Ukraine equals a stable Europe.

As of now, there is a near total consensus that Ukraine’s foreign policy must undergo profound changes. Ukrainian citizens’ top priorities are the search for new markets and integration into the EU and NATO. Levels of support for cooperation with Russia are primarily determined by region with most supporters of cooperation with Moscow being from the east. Nearly all Ukrainians, however, are against declaring war with Russia.

Ukraine needs ambassadors in key countries

Ukraine lacks ambassadors in Belarus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Romania, and Georgia. The Absence of an ambassador in a particular country reflects disinterest and does further harm to Ukraine’s reputation. As of June 2015, the position of the head of Mission of Ukraine to NATO remains vacant. Furthermore, web-pages of Ukraine’s diplomatic missions abroad must be more professional. Many of these sites are updated irregularly and even lack the host country’s language.

Summing up, a foreign policy strategy for Ukraine should involve all of Ukraine’s public institutions in its implementation.

The best thing that Ukraine can do for the world is work on itself first. Positive internal reforms can transform the world’s perception of Ukraine from a “victim country” to a “winner country.”

Source: The full report of the Institute of World Policy is available here

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  1. Avatar Randolph Carter says:

    “Ukraine could influence conflict resolution in other states, particularly through peacekeeping missions abroad, driving reconciliation between East and West, stabilization of relations between Russia and the EU.”

    This statement (for me) is amazing – in the past 3 years, I have seen innovations in artificial limbs, cars that get incredible mileage, tanks with armor as strong as the best Russian tanks, missile systems that are incredibly accurate! All of these say so much for the Ukrainian people; their resiliency to war and despair, to fighting an enemy ten times larger, to an dealing with an international body of countries who express (at best) indifference or (at worst) outright hostility. Their spirit is indomitable and their resolve is adamant. Yes, Putin could launch nukes or send an army with technology beyond what Ukraine has, but that would only strengthen their resolve to remain free – they would fight down to the last man, and he would go out standing on a pile of his enemies.

    Now, talk of Ukraine resolving conflict in other countries; between Russia and the EU. Ukraine may be small in terms of size, but their grit, determination and sheer will to move beyond petty dictators like Putin and Yanukovich and into the future where they become a major power in international relations, in science, in the arts, speaks of a resolve that is very much worthy of admiration. They will show the world how it should be done.

    1. Avatar Scradje says:

      Excellent comment.

    2. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

      In terms of size as in land area Ukraine would be the largest country in Europe. France is larger only if its overseas territories are added on. Population-wise Ukraine is similar to Spain. There is nothing particularly ” small ” about Ukraine.

      1. Avatar Randolph Carter says:

        Unfortunately, I still have the USA-centric mindset that unless a country is large (on the scale of the old USSR or China), it’s “small”. An Australian friend has a map on his wall of Australia superimposed over the US and Australia’s actually much bigger than I thought. Boot to the head. Until I began to learn about Ukraine and other countries in the area, their language (Russian – my girlfriend lives in Lugansk) that I began to really appreciate the richness of the Slavic cultures. I grumbled about six forms of words in Russian until my teacher told me that Serbian (?) has 26.

        I made a Pinterest collage about Ukraine but gave up when I reached 3,600 pictures! I learned about Old High Slavonic, the Scythians, Kievan Rus, the Silk Road, Cossacks, the beauty of Kiev, Lugansk, Donetsk, that Azov flowed into the Black Sea, the Swallow’s Nest, Onion-Dome cathedrals (still not sure why they build them like that), the Russian Orthodox religion and the pre-Christian gods, vareniki, the Carpathians, giving a gift when visiting, etc., etc. In short, the incredible richness of the Ukrainian and other Slavic country’s cultures.

        I am dying to come over and see even 1/100 of the culture and beauty there (especially my Царица!), but then that sonovabitch Putin had to go mess things up. I’d kick his ass, but I’ll have to settle for giving him the (Ukrainian) finger – you’re right, there’s nothing “small” about Ukraine!

        1. Avatar Andrew Chmil says:

          Russians are NOT white or Slavic btw.

          You learned BS “RUSKI VERSION OF HISTORY”.

          Which is CONSTANTLY recirculated…

          Only REAL history book is by Hrushevsky.
          (Forget Orest Subtelny!! He’s an @ss!)

          1. Avatar Randolph Carter says:

            I learned bits and pieces that teachers thought were relevant to my country – the Revolutionary war, the Constitution/Bill of Rights, WWII, etc. We briefly touched upon things like the Russian and French revolutions (one had people getting shot; the other guillotined), and various pieces of literature. My teachers were probably taught in the same way. Also consider that Senator McCarthy had “commies” under every bed and in every closet, so Russia and the Slavic (?) countries were not discussed much – Hitler’s blitzkrieg into Poland was about as close as we got.

            So please pardon my ignorance – I am trying very hard to learn more about a section of the world I know almost nothing about. The comment by zorbatheturk gave me a better understanding of the size and geography of Ukraine; you’ve added info that Russians are not considered Slavic people. Thanks for the correction.

          2. Avatar Andrew Chmil says:

            You can get a free Adobe download of Orest Subtelny’s “Ukie” history book …. price is right … but I’m sorry I read it.

            1) I do NOT “buy” this “East Slavic” BS!
            HTF does THAT at all make sense when “Ukie” & Polish have a COMMON LEXICON of 70%
            and Russian & Ukrainian — both supposedly “East Slavic” — is in the low 60s.

            So if Poland is “West Slavic” — Hmm…. something funny ’round here! 😉

            When even nasty “politically correct” BS Wiki gives those percentages — BUT ***ADDS**
            — “for some reason” 😉 — That the “East Slavic languages are mutually understandable” ?? !!! Huh? WTF?!

            It’s VERY easy for me to understand Belorusian (note ONE “s”) with a 90% common lexicon! 🙂 …. But Russian?? — NO WAY!!! ( I am American born). Nor can a Ruski understand a “Uke”.

            So ALWAYS that “common nation of Ruski, Ukes & Belorus HORSESH*T !!

            You will find a LOT of LYING (deliberate!) and IGNORANCE on this very topic!
            Which is ONE BIG REASON I do NOT recommend Orest Subtelny’s “Ukie” history… He “goes along” too much for popular acceptance.

            So there is ALWAYS the BS of CLAIMING, FORCING, PROPAGANDIZING that “Ukes” & Ruski — ARE “the same people”… Nah’ ….. not genetically, linguistically or culturally.

            I can give you an excellent discussion (BITTER & NASTY! 🙂 on this topic if you want…
            Ruski troll LOST …. as always…. a very emotive topic…. A lot rides on it. And BTW, do NOT think that all Ukes knoe this stuff …. certainly Orest Subtelny, the Ukie “historian” apparently did not … a few other –MORTAL– errors as well.

            For the way things are, are the way things are.

          3. Avatar Andrew Chmil says:

            “…you’ve added info that Russians are not considered Slavic people. Thanks for the correction.”

            Ruski (I like calling them “Russo-mongolians” — to make a point — would LIE & CLAIM they are Slavic — & use “genetic maps” — I have a bio background btw. — so the trolls can’t BS *ME* 🙂

            More accurate to call “Russians” (that term was adopted in 1721 by Peter the Great btw — before it was “Moscovia” — NOT “Russia”) — Finno-Ugric Mongoloidols :)) Very accurate indeed! 🙂 The only “white blood” they “have” is from Poles, Ukes, Belorus, Germans etc…

            “Moscow” is a Finnic word meaning “stinky (or dirty) water”.