The US-EU Partnership Committee for Ukraine met on May 14, 2007, in Berlin at a meeting jointly hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the German Council on Foreign Relations to discuss developments in Ukraine and ways to enhance Europe’s opening to Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Myroslava Honhadze of VOA Ukrainian spoke with a leading member of the Committee, former US National Security Adviser, today CSIS Counselor and Trustee, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, upon his return to Washington. The Committee’s other members present at the Berlin meeting were former German Minister of Defense Volker Ruehe, former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek and former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Peterson.
Myroslava Honhadze: Why did you and your colleagues decide to form the US-EU Partnership Committee for Ukraine and what is the main purpose of this committee?
Dr. Brzezinski: We decided to create that committee, because we believe that Ukraine is an important European country and that the interests of Europe and of the Atlantic Community, but also of Ukraine would be best served, if Ukraine’s adhesion, closer connection with, cooperation, association, eventually membership [in the European Union], were facilitated. There is a further strategic goal behind that, namely if Ukraine moves to the West, Russia inevitably will have to follow suite. If Ukraine doesn’t move to the West, Russia’s nostalgia for an imperial role is going to intensify, and, therefore, Russia will be more of a problem, Ukraine might be more threatened and, therefore, it is in the interest of everyone concerned to move that process forward.
Myroslava Honhadze: Ukrainian leaders have been declaring Ukraine’s membership in the EU a strategic goal. In your opinion, is such a goal realistic if one considers both the realities in Ukraine and the negative mood in the EU towards further enlargement?
Dr. Brzezinski: It is a realistic goal provided one does not set a date that comes too soon. In other words, it’s a realistic goal if one is patient. But look at the likely social, cultural and economic impact of the European football [soccer] championships that are going to take place in Ukraine and Poland in 2012. I have no doubt that that is going to have a very major impact not only on the state of Ukrainian-European or Ukrainian-EU relations, but it’s going to have a very significant impact on the political culture of Ukraine and particularly the younger people. It already has started having that effect. So, it’s a realistic goal, but of course it will take a number of years of patient negotiations, of structural changes, reforms in Ukraine, but more and more Ukrainians – both on the social level, especially the younger generation, but also the oligarchs, the people with business – know that Ukraine’s future is in Europe and not as a periphery of Russia.
Myroslava Honhadze: If the goal of Ukraine’s EU membership is achievable, what should both sides be doing today to make this goal a reality and can the United States play a role in this?
Dr. Brzezinski: Well, the EU and the United States can help – the United States largely by using its influence also to encourage the EU to be as open [as possible], to make it clear that the EU is very receptive to closer association with Ukraine, and also take tangible steps to promote more contacts, easier visa arrangements, travel arrangements, facilitate Ukraine’s entrance into the WTO, but the main burden of responsibility for making that concept of the future into a reality lies on the shoulders of Ukraine, just as it did earlier on the shoulders of Poland or of the Baltic countries. Neither the EU nor NATO are in the business of asking people “please come and join us.” But if somebody wishes to join them, and these countries qualify, if they are part of Europe, then they are welcome.
So, what we in the Committee are trying to do is to encourage the Ukrainian leaders to take the kind of steps that would make Ukraine more attractive and more appealing – transparency, rule of law, predictability, institutionalized democracy and so forth.
Myroslava Honhadze: Some European countries are reluctant to enter into close relationships with Ukraine for fear of antagonizing Russia and thus jeopardizing their own energy security. How do you think this problem should be addressed?
Dr. Brzezinski: I think there is a change taking place in that respect. Now it is increasingly Russia that it antagonizing the West. And I think there is a lot of evidence for that. The brutal Russian reactions vis-à-vis Estonia, for example, the efforts to sabotage the Estonian Internet by massive cyber attacks, not to mention the staged demonstrations which were so violent. All of that is giving Russia a very bad image in the West -- the cut-off of the flow of oil to Lithuanians, because the didn’t sell their refinery to a Russian prospective buyer; the general attitude of opposition to any efforts by the EU to diversify its energy sources. Not to drop connections with Russia – far from it – but simply to diversify, that’s irritating the West. Then, the insistence of the Russians to have access “downstream” to Western economies, but will not permit access “upstream” to Russian resources to Western companies. All of that is prompting a gradual reassessment of Russia’s current political regime in the West, and is making more and more people conclude that Russia’s current policies are actually very misguided and very dangerous to Russia in the sense that it is likely to increase the tendency of Russia becoming isolated at a time when Russia has very, very serious domestic problems, demographic problems, which have not been effectively addressed by the present Russian regime.
Myroslava Honhadze: But how can Ukraine overcome these influences from Russia?
Dr. Brzezinski: Well, Ukraine can only overcome them by itself, that is to say, by consolidating its sense of nationhood, by trying to maintain good relations with Russia whenever it’s feasible, by essentially indicating that its movement toward the West is not anti-Russian, but also has as its additional purpose to facilitate Russia’s eventual participation in this Atlantic community, in the EU and so forth.
Myroslava Honhadze: Would Ukraine’s membership in NATO increase its chances of European Union membership?
Dr. Brzezinski: Maybe, but I don’t think it’s a necessary precondition. There are members of the EU that are not members of NATO. I think that’s a decision that the Ukrainian people have to make. By and large, however, the collaboration between NATO and the Ukrainian defense establishment is moving forward very positively, and the Ukrainians have been active, as we know, in Iraq, and they’ve been active also in joint Ukrainian-Polish military formations. I think the experience has been beneficial to Ukraine. It has helped to create a more modern military establishment than the previous Soviet military establishment.
Myroslava Honhadze: Ukraine is in a deep political crisis today. What do you think went wrong and why, and do you see a way out of this situation?
Dr. Brzezinski: You know, it’s a huge, huge issue as to what went wrong. It could be a question of personalities, it could be question of conflict of personalities, of some indecision, perhaps some miscalculations, but the past is past. What has to be done now, it seems to me, is to have an orderly election that perhaps will help to clarify the picture, and to also facilitate some constitutional changes, which would eliminate massive areas of ambiguity and even internal contradictions in the existing constitutional arrangements.
There is an organization in the West, in Europe, called the Venice Commission, which offers constitutional advice and professional judgments. Perhaps, in some fashion, it could be engaged in helping to sort out this terrible constitutional complexity that contributes to even more intense personal and political conflicts in Ukraine.
But at the same time, having acknowledged the reality of difficulties, confusion and conflict, one also has to acknowledge the fact that Ukrainians have shown also an admirable patience and prudence, which testifies to what would generally be called a higher or generally democratic political culture. For all of the arguments between Yushchenko, Yanukovych or Tymoshenko, and people sleeping in tents in the center of Kyiv and so forth, nothing has happened in Kyiv that in any way is reminiscent of what happened in Moscow when there were political tensions involving Yeltsin, Gorbachev and the others – gunfire in the streets, parliament shelled and so forth. So, the Ukrainians have reason to be proud of the fact that their political culture is a relaxed political culture, which absorbs some of these more dramatic political conflicts. And if they can maintain that, then eventually the chances are that there will be some compromise.
Now, there is an element of frustration in all of that, because when one deals with Ukrainian political leaders one also gets a lot of promises, commitments which are never fulfilled.
But somehow or other it’s done in a manner that reduces the hostilities and tensions that this otherwise might have produced.
Myroslava Honhadze: What always seems to come to the forefront in Ukraine’s political troubles is the divide between Eastern and Western Ukraine. What steps do you think can be taken to bridge that divide?
Dr. Brzezinski: Well, perhaps the most important step is one that should not be taken – namely, I don’t think the linguistic issue should be elevated into some sort of a national conflict. Ukraine has an official language, a state language, but as a practical matter, operationally, people speak Russian or Ukrainian and a lot of people are very fluent in both languages, and I think that is a reality that will change over time or perhaps it won’t change. And there are quite a few countries in the world in which more than one language is spoken on a socially significant level – Belgium, Switzerland, Canada. There are others – India. And I think that issue should not become a major problem, because it could conceivably produce emotional reactions that really poison the political atmosphere.
Beyond that, I think, what is terribly important is that there be respect for rule of law and transparency and that, I think, would help to relieve some of the problems of corruption and the persistent inability of the political system to address serious violations of the law, serious crimes in a fashion that is civilized and which is in keeping with the democratic norms of the genuinely democratic societies in the world.
Myroslava Honhadze: The divide between eastern and western Ukraine also has international implications. Politicians and businessmen from eastern Ukraine, for instance, are much more likely to interact with their Russian than their European or American counterparts. How can that be changed?
Dr. Brzezinski: Well, first of all, it is a fact that for many decades and certainly throughout the entire Soviet era, but even before that, the industrialization and modernization of what was the Czarist empire and in what was the Soviet Union, tended to occur not only in Russia, but also in Ukraine and some other parts of the former empire, and in Ukraine it tended to occur more in the east than in the west. Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk are all symptoms of that. So, it’s not an artificial reality, but it’s a reality which is a consequence of the past. And, therefore, the political and particularly the economic leaders, who live in that part of Ukraine, quite normally and naturally have that established set of connections. But, with independence and with further modernization and with gradual changes in the economy and with the inflow of foreign capital, that is changing. And there is no doubt – I know this for a fact – that some of the most prominent oligarchs in what is called “the east” know that if they are to be successful, the have to operate in the West. And they know that Ukraine, presumably even this year, will become a member of the World Trade Organization. That, too, is going to have enormous consequences. So, the center of gravity of Ukraine’s orientation is going to change and it’s continuing to change. And that is not anti-Russian; it’s simply part of the new evolving global economic realities. And these people who are businessmen, who are competitive, know that in the long run a competitive and rapidly growing Ukraine has to be part, in some fashion, of this larger global economy which is West-centered.
And, last but not least, consider the following: Russia has an impressive rate of growth on a per annum basis, somewhat higher than Ukraine’s – but it’s impressive – based almost entirely on the export of raw materials. Ukraine has a very impressive rate of growth – about 7% -- based largely on its ability to compete as a modern industrial economy. That, too, has consequences and it is part of this process that I am talking about.
Myroslava Honhadze: How does Ukraine fit into your recent writings about the US needing to play a more positive role internationally in terms of alleviating poverty and strengthening democracy around the world, rather than being seen as militaristic and only concerned about US prosperity?
Dr. Brzezinski: Well, that is a criticism specifically of the way America has exercised its special position in the world and particularly in the last several years under the current presidency. I think that has, in my view, as a view of a patriotic American citizen, helped to undermine American credibility, American legitimacy, even respect for American power. And that, of course, is likely to be exploited by those who have a special animus toward the United States, in part because of the American victory in the Cold War. But those happen to be the same people that, generally speaking, are not terribly pleased by the reality of an independent, sovereign, separate Ukraine. So, I think that the logical conclusions of that are almost self-evident.
Myroslava Honhadze: Do you think that the United States pays enough attention to that part of the world?
Dr. Brzezinski: Not lately, because of the negative consequences of what I consider to have been a misguided American policy, namely starting a war in Iraq which should not have been started and certainly not the way it was done. And, I think, this has obviously diverted American attention and it has also stimulated increasing tensions outside of Iraq, but in the area of the Middle East and further east – Afghanistan, Pakistan. So, this has been a very serious diversion away from other issues which should have been given similar attention.
Myroslava Honhadze: And, lastly, in many circles you are considered a friend of Ukraine. If that assertion is correct, how did this friendship come about?
Dr. Brzezinski: Well, I like Ukraine and I am happy to see it being independent. I think it helps in many ways to create a better, larger Europe that increasingly extends into Eurasia, as I have said earlier in our interview.
And maybe paternal influence plays a role in this. I was born in Poland although I lived only three years of my life in Poland, but my father fought for Polish independence, but he also fought against the Ukrainians in a city he used to describe as “Lvuv” – a city which the Ukrainians call “Lviv,” a city of which I am now an honorary citizen. And when I received that honorary citizenship in Lviv I said to the Ukrainians that this is a city in which my father fought against Ukrainians. In fact, not far from the City Hall, where I was getting that very important distinction, I said he was fighting against the Ukrainians for control of the central railroad station in “Lvuv.” And I said to them, later when I was growing up my father used to tell me that that conflict between Ukrainians and Poles was a stupid conflict and it was, as he described it, a fratricidal conflict, a conflict between brothers, which helped eventually to deprive both peoples of their independence. So, I imagine that probably also influenced my thinking, and I have always enjoyed visiting Ukraine and I like the Ukrainian people. I like some Ukrainian politicians. I even think that one of them is very attractive [laughter]. There are many reasons why I like Ukraine.
Myroslava Honhazde: Do you believe Ukraine will succeed?
Dr. Brzezinski: I think it will succeed. I have no doubt about that. And I think – it may sound strange – but I think this decision [for Ukraine] to be the host for a major European event [Euro Soccer Cup] five years from now is going to be a very, very major transforming event giving Ukraine not a post-Soviet quasi-independent, still quasi-undefined self-identity, but a clearly identified national identity that is at the same time also a clearly European identity.
Also present at the Berlin meeting were the four Task Force Directors of the US-EU Partnership Committee for Ukraine CSIS Director of the New European Democracies Project and CSIS Europe Program Senior Fellow Janusz Bugajski; former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and CSIS Senior Adviser Steven Pifer; former U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania and CSIS Senior Associate Keith Smith; and Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University and CSIS Senior Associate Celeste Wallander.