EU Must Give Kiev Accession Hope

LONDON, England -- The pledges of support given this week to Ukraine by David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, and other European Union ministers must be followed by concrete action.

Ukraine wants desperately to become a member of the EU.

It is not enough for the EU to warn that Russia might try to build on its military victory in Georgia by targeting Ukraine and other vulnerable ex-Soviet republics. The west should respond – and the EU must play a big role in that response.

Brussels promised Kiev much when pro-west president Viktor Yushchenko triumphed in the 2004 Orange Revolution. It has delivered rather less, increasing aid, political contacts and economic ties. But the EU has denied Kiev the big prize of a pledge of possible future membership. It is time to think again.

First, the Georgian crisis shows Russia’s vulnerable neighbours need support in resisting Russian aggression. While EU membership brings no security guarantees, it confers the political backing of a 27-member bloc.

Next, a membership promise would boost Ukraine’s pro-west reformers in their struggles with opponents, including powerful Russia-oriented lobbies. Working for a clear common goal, Ukrainians could find it easier to set aside their political differences. This in turn could help stabilise Ukraine, leaving it less open to hostile interference.

Finally, there would be a delay of many years before Ukraine met entry standards. That would leave enough time for EU leaders to overcome the current anti-enlargement mood. A union which had by then successfully absorbed today’s wave of new members would be well-placed for further expansion.

None of this need be overtly anti-Russian. Moscow has not raised serious objections to Kiev’s EU bid. Russians investing in Ukraine would be glad to see their assets safe inside the EU. If and when membership came close, Ukrainian-Russian trade would have to conform to EU rules. But that need not be too onerous.

Also, an EU move now would help head off the difficult issue of Ukraine’s NATO membership bid. Ukraine (like Georgia) had consideration of its membership action plan put off at NATO’s summit. This was the right decision.

While united over EU accession, Ukrainians are split over NATO. This reflects divisions in attitudes to Russia, with many Ukrainians wanting to stay out of an alliance widely seen as anti-Russian.

Only when Ukrainians clearly make up their minds in favour of NATO should the alliance accept Kiev’s bid. But on the EU their minds are made up. Brussels must now summon the courage to offer a positive response.

Source: Financial Times