Planning For An EU-Ready Ukraine

BERLIN, Germany -- Challenging the European Union's cautious policies toward Ukraine, a group of leading U.S. and European officials have joined forces to prepare Ukraine for eventual membership in both NATO and the EU, despite the continuing political turmoil in the country and enlargement fatigue inside the 27-member bloc.

Zbigniew Brzezinski

The initiative, led by a former U.S. national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and a former German defense minister, Volker Rühe, reflects a growing concern that unless Ukraine is given the prospect of EU and NATO membership, the chances for long-term stability and economic, political and social reforms could remain elusive.

Meeting in Berlin, the U.S.-EU Partnership Committee, as it is called, said that it believed that if the EU reached out to Ukraine, it would achieve two beneficial things: stability for Europe and assurances to Russia.

"The committee urged U.S. and European leaders to remember that an independent, democratic and market-orientated Ukraine will contribute to a more stable and secure Europe," said Brzezinski, counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Such a policy could also show to Russia that European policy toward Ukraine was not intended to alienate Russia.

"We want to advance the cause of a larger Europe and a more cooperative Europe," added Brzezinski, who was speaking at the German Council on Foreign Relations, which hosted the conference. "In that context, a closer and better relationship between Ukraine and Europe that is open would not exclude Russia becoming involved in an open and cooperative enterprise with Europe."

The U.S.-EU Partnership Committee proposed that one concrete area for cooperation between the EU and Ukraine could be the security and reliability of energy supplies. Ukraine is the major transit country for Russian gas exports to Europe.

Russia's state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, cut its deliveries to Ukraine last year, officially because of a dispute over the price of gas. But analysts said it was the Kremlin's response to Ukraine's pro-democratic Orange Revolution. The committee proposed a reform of Ukraine's energy policies, with support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to reduce corruption, introduce transparency and modernize the energy infrastructure.

The EU, which has become frustrated with the bitter infighting between the pro-Western Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, and the pro-Russian prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, is reluctant to hold out any prospect of Ukraine's joining the bloc. Several countries, including Germany, also fear that NATO membership would affect Berlin's close ties to Moscow.

Instead, the EU said it had offered Ukraine and other countries in the region a "neighborhood policy." Under the plan, countries that enact reforms would have greater access to trade with the EU and economic, social and political ties with the bloc would be strengthened. Regardless of the reforms, it would not lead to membership of the EU.

Rühe is unusual in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party because he supports Ukraine's and Turkey's joining the EU, while Merkel favors a privileged partnership for Turkey, similar to the "neighborhood policy."

"The European neighborhood policy should be enhanced and should not be a substitute for potential EU membership for Ukraine," Rühe said.

Bronislaw Geremek, a former Polish foreign minister and now a member of the European Parliament who is on the U.S.-EU Partnership Committee for Ukraine, warned about "enlargement fatigue" inside the EU. Despite that, he said Ukraine should start preparing for when it will be in a position to negotiate membership, that is, it should introduce the rule of law and implement the EU's standards, regulations and legislation.

Source: International Herald Tribune