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Is Ukraine able to have both independent and professional foreign policy?

Is Ukraine able to have both independent and professional foreign policy?

Alina Nychyk – Doctoral Candidate in Politics, the University of Manchester; Content Manager, Ukraine Democracy Initiative; Editor, Brussels-Ukraїna Review; social activist

Ukraine – one of the biggest countries in Europe with a variety of potentials – after 29 years since becoming independent still cannot be proud of its foreign policy. Why is it so hard for the country and will it ever be able to develop both independent and professional foreign policy in accordance with the best world practices?

Ukraine is a young country, although having a few periods of independence or some kind of autonomy during the centuries. Getting its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was left with the Soviet elite and their ruling style. It would be too naïve to believe that Soviet mentality would disappear from people’s minds after the goodbye waving to the USSR. Whilst such evolution was going too slow, Ukrainians opted for revolution. Two revolutions in 25 years were Ukraine’s attempts to change old corrupt elites. This was not so successful. The same oligarchs still hold power, new people appear to be children (or other relatives) of old elites, preserving their corrupted schemes, and unprofessional politicians rule the country again and again. The very same situation can be seen in the country’s foreign policy-making. So, how should Ukraine develop successful foreign policy in current realities?

Develop the country domestically. The first step in having a successful foreign policy is to have something to offer to others. No serious investor will come to a country with uncertain legal norms and wide-spread corruption. It is hard for foreign businesses to operate in a country with bad infrastructure. On the other hand, it is problematic to deal with a politically unstable country, which experiences constant battles between its political elites. No equal international cooperation can be reached with a country, that has poor economic development and old technological background. Countries with weaker economies and unstable political systems have higher chances to be used by their foreign partners. Therefore, before thinking of integration perspectives, Ukraine has to do its homework in many sectors of its economy and politics.

Listen to experts. A member of the parliament cannot be a specialist in medicine, agriculture and sport at the same time. In a good-working system, there is a number of mechanisms to involve experts to a country’s decision-making. Face-to-face meetings, parliamentary debates with experts presenting their varied views and conferences are just a few ways to hear the expertise from people who deal with the respective issues on a daily basis. If such political dialogue is developed, there would be less public protests and better functioning of democracy in a country. The same way when taking decisions about relations with other countries in agriculture, biosecurity or education, politicians and diplomats need to hear the expertise of local specialists.

Bring professionals with a vision. People, who know and accept the realities and know how to develop Ukraine, are the ones who should be responsible for country’s foreign policy. Foreign languages, education, years of experience – all is relevant, however there are exceptions to any rule. Therefore, some of Ukraine’s new strict competitions for positions in public service may lack sensibility and only prove their creation for beforehand agreed candidates. On the other hand, in the modern world, a successful diplomat does not only care about his/her country’s wellbeing, but is also aware of global problems and world developments, which have to be resolved together with other countries. A vision of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous world is a proper vision for current diplomacy.

Accept the reality. Striving for a perfect outcome, the first and foremost thing is to accept the reality. The same way as humans are selfish in reaching their dreams, countries are in following their most preferred policies. To be interesting for foreign partners, Ukraine needs to offer something in return. Its neighbour European Union is a good partner to cooperate with, but Ukraine should realistically access its current and future partnership with EU. Russia on the East has its ambitions and its own view of reality. Ukraine cannot move itself to another part of the world, so as to be far from Russia. Therefore, successful foreign-policy strategies should study and understand both Russia’s, EU’s and others’ interests and on the basis of this try to push Ukraine’s own agenda.

Learn about foreign policy-making. We do not live in a perfect world, although some Ukrainian diplomats have a tendency to believe so. We have international system, consisted of international rules and countries’ cooperation grounded in powers of some international organisations. However, not all laws work well. It is easier for powerful countries to overcome some rules. To be successful, you need to know how to deal with flaws of our world. Foreign policy is not physics and its rules are not so solid. This makes a job of a diplomat more as an artist than a scientist. Ukrainian policy-makers have to understand these basic rules of diplomacy, learn them and apply in relations with other countries.

The extended version of the article was originally published at Vilna Dumka newspaper.