The state of votes
The EU-Ukraine border should be opened as soon as possible
Ukraine still has a lot to do before it is ready for a border opening
Alona Shestopalova | 2016. April 22. 11:14
Ukraine was announced to have met all the EU requirements concerning the establishment of the visa-free regime on March 16. The European Commission confirmed it on April 19. Thus, it is for The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to decide whether to approve such a tough but correct decision or to delay it under a pretext. In turn, Ukrainian authorities and society as a whole should now show determination regarding the border opening, since it is one of the main stages of the integration process, supported by more than half of Ukrainians, according to statistics.
In year 2014-15 the EU became an important economic partner for Ukraine, for the first time pushing on a second place the previous top-partner – Russia. And the fact that it happened the year after the Euromaidan revolution was not by chance. After signing a free-trade agreement with the EU on January 1, 2016 the situation is expected to improve even more. However, there are still some factors that discourage Ukrainian business to grow.
One of them, no doubt, is due to the administrative hurdle of obtaining a visa. For example during year 2013-14 more than 1.3 million Ukrainians applied for visas to the EU-countries. For business owners and representatives such procedure means losing time and wasting money while passing through the numerous bureaucratic structures in Ukraine to prepare required documents.
Today this “visa obstacle” often ties the hands of Ukrainian business, making the idea of a free trade partnership fade away. This fact cannot be ignored because these are Ukrainian labor emigrants and business people in the EU who, during the year 2015 transferred more money to Ukraine than all foreign investors together.
People skeptical about the integration of Ukraine into the EU usually argue that this will for sure spoil relationships with the CIS countries and anger President Putin, who is now one of the most influential politicians, not only in the region but in the world. It is probably partially true. On the other hand, it is clear that being guided by Mr. Putin, when it comes to Ukrainian foreign-policy is not an option at all.
President Putin nowadays prefers situational partnerships, shows rigid behavior on the international arena and, he is constantly neglecting international law. And there is no use in trying to find a compromise or to appease a man who will do as he wants anyways.
Only consistent action towards the integration with the EU can minimize the damage to Ukraine from the Mr. Putin neighborhood and undermine his credibility among Eastern European countries. The visa-free regime would also be a strong blow to the Russian propaganda in Eastern Ukraine. According to statistics, only 10% of the Donbas-region residents visited Western Europe. That means that 90% of them are very susceptible to manipulation, as they do not have a first-hand experience of Europe. The visa liberalization would help with that. As we can see from the experience of post-USSR countries, successful reforms have to be resolute, global and fast. So Ukraine should do its best to open its border with the EU, as soon as possible.
Armed conflict of course represents an important hurdle to a potential visa-free regime. But the current war should not lead to the isolation of Ukraine. For example, the conflict in Transnistria did not halt the development of relations between Moldova and the EU. Moldova got its visa-free regime in April 2014 and the former Prime Minister of Moldova, Iurie Leanca, said that such an agreement gave hope for resolving the frozen conflict in Transnistria.
Another country – Georgia – which is now as Ukraine, waiting for the European decision regarding border liberalization, also suffered from Russian aggression in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but that did not prevent Georgians from making reforms and democratizing their country. Thus, a visa-free regime with the EU will only help Ukraine to get on its feet, settle the conflict in the Donbas area, and the Crimea.
All things considered, Ukraine should sign the visa-free agreement with the EU as soon as possible, because any delay could have negative consequences in strategic terms. All the potential risks of such an agreement are justified and not commensurate with the benefits.
Kostiantyn Yanchenko | 2016. April 22. 11:14
While Ukrainians are showing their enthusiasm about the possibility of a border opening, there are too many circumstances that call into question its timeliness. Economic downturn, protracted political crises, war with Russia, indefinite status of Crimea and many subjective factors such as high level of corruption and side business do not support a visa-free regime setting. Being unable to solve its internal problems, Ukraine would likely not handle well additional cross-border challenges.
Ukrainian business is not going to get too many benefits from the visa-free regime with the EU, despite what people may think. The key point is that visa-policy liberalization does not in any way nullify the need for authorization to get an official job-offer or a contract in the EU. Consequently, individuals and companies who managed to establish cooperation with the European partners without a visa-free regime lost nothing, while others are still unduly building their hopes on a visa abolition.
The border opening will also definitely increase the rate of illegal labor emigration from Ukraine. Refugees from the Donbas area, people unsatisfied with their quality of life and, what is really dramatic, the most far-reaching Ukrainians will rush towards the EU border. For the EU this would be another injection of refugees. For Ukraine a demographic decline and a massive brain drain. The Executive Director of EASO (European Asylum Support Office) has already included Ukraine in the “top-six” list of countries sending refugees to the EU. What would happen after the border opening?
Another issue connected with the prospect of visa-free regime with the EU is a Ukrainian reluctance to the diversity of European cultures, religions, races and identities in general. Even Lviv (a city in Western Ukraine) which is considered to be the most pro-European and open-minded one, demonstrated total intolerance against LGBT-people, handicapped and others who face a discrimination just on the eve of the Netherlands referendum on the EU-Ukraine deal. Supported by the radical right-wing political parties and the Church representatives, a group of young people in masks disrupted an event called “The Equality Festival” with verbal threats and throwing stones. Despite a public outcry in media and social networks, none of the offenders was held liable. If Ukraine is serious about the loosening of border controls, it should properly prosecute incidents that involve the violation of human rights.
If the new regime was installed, Ukraine should also prepare for an even deeper ideological polarization between its Western and Eastern parts. Surveys show that Ukraine is still to Russia in terms of information warfare and people in the Eastern Ukraine are not going to approve a border opening. Such decision could cause a deepening of the already existing internal conflict, so Ukrainian NGOs and official institutions should first promote awareness before the country decides to undertake such serious changes.
We should also acknowledge, that a real war is going on in the Donbas, no matter how it is called. Furthermore, this war is a hybrid one, which includes information, military, political and economical dimensions and in any moment it can escalate. Any hasty steps towards the visa-free regime setting with the EU may lead to human losses and even to some extent, jeopardize the EU.
For now Ukraine has almost 2 000 km of land border with Russia, including war areas and the occupied Crimea peninsula, and more than 300 km of maritime borders. The land border is not fortified or even controlled in any way. Actually it is just absent, as it was at the time of USSR. The water area of the Kerch Strait (sea of Azov) did not even pass through the procedure of delimitation and demarcation, so this area does not have a defined legal status.
The visa-free regime with the EU will de facto transfer all mentioned non-existent borders into the EU, opening a new path for the terrorists and other unwanted visitors. In other words the EU will get one more uncontrolled geographical point of contact with Russia, while Ukraine will once again consolidate its position of geopolitical axis, where East and West collide. That is why Ukraine should take care about its borders with Russia before getting a visa-free regime with the EU.
To sum up, Ukrainian politicians will do anythingto implement a visa-free regime because it affects their rankings like nothing else. So the question is not “if” Ukraine will sign, but “when” and “how”. The stronger Ukraine is at the moment of the EU border opening, the more it will benefit from it.
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