Analysis: Dutch referendum a storm warning for Ukraine

Campaigners for the “No” vote in the Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU in a street of Amsterdam. Photo AFP/Getty Images

Dmitry Minion writes in The Strategic Culture Foundation

The results of the Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union [the “no” vote won with 64%] will likely turn out to be more helpful than harmful to Kiev. Brussels will also find it useful. Because the fact is – watching how this agreement between Ukraine and the EU has played out over the past year has only substantiated the most ominous predictions.
Ukraine’s association with the EU promises to completely gut the country’s economy in just a couple of years. There is no future for Ukrainian agriculture, nor for its industrial sector that has lost markets in the East and cannot possibly find any in the West. Ukrainian exports to all destinations continue to plummet, including those headed west. The path to Europe is blocked because of quotas and Europe’s own overproduction of food, and Russia is a no-go for both political reasons as well as the lack of strategic vision on the part of the Ukrainian government. Experts claim that the problem is not that the Dutch are particularly overly skeptical about Ukraine. Citizens of many European countries – France and Italy for example, where no referendums have been held on this issue – feel the same. It has nothing to do with «Ukrainophobia». Many of the respondents in the Netherlands who oppose the Association Agreement claimed that it would be harmful to Ukraine itself.
It seemed that a referendum would be a convenient excuse to revise a failed project and to return to the tripartite format suggested by Moscow (Ukraine–EU–Russia) for the discussions and cooperation. But it’s not all that simple. Brussels is in no hurry to admit its mistakes and has no wish to accept political responsibility or suffer any loss to its reputation, nor concede anything to Moscow. However, other than a dubious relaxation of visa restrictions, Ukraine is being offered nothing in exchange for the failed Association Agreement. This is understandable: you can’t rescue someone who is doing nothing to save himself.
Kiev is motivated by something else. The entire mythology on which the Maidan protests were based was built on the idea that the Association Agreement with the European Union would open up unprecedented new horizons for Ukraine’s development, and anyone who urged caution in regard to ratifying that document was an enemy. Now those prospects look murky and might never be realized. It seems all the sacrifices were in vain. But acknowledging this would mean signing off on an abject failure.
That is why the Ukrainian government is unable to find a proper response to the results of the Dutch referendum and continues to insist semi-threateningly that it will still «charge into Europe» – an idea that Europeans also find frightening. The domestic situation is on the verge of escalating into a political firestorm. Mustafa Nayyem, an investigative journalist, deputy in the Verkhovna Rada, and pioneer of the Maidan movement, has already blamed the defeat on the head of state. He has stated that «this was a verdict against Poroshenko personally». In view of the outcome of the referendum, the leader of the Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, is calling for the Ukrainian president to be impeached. And that’s just the beginning.
Yatsenyuk’s resignation has been announced, which is simultaneously both an attempt to delay the impending upheaval as well as an omen that the final stage of the Ukrainian drama is near at hand. But Yatsenyuk’s departure will change little. Not all of the failures of the country’s leadership can be pinned on him alone.
German experts have noted that the level of discord between Ukraine’s political parties is at an all-time high. Effective government is not possible unless politicians are able to rise above their conflicts with one another.
Volodymyr Groysman, the current head of parliament and one of Poroshenko’s trusted supporters, is the likely successor to Yatsenyuk. However, no one anticipates that Groysman could bring a change to Kiev’s policies. With the same fanatical doggedness as his predecessor, Groysman insists that his strategic lodestar remains the same – Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration that has already taken the country down a blind alley. Undeterred by the undeniable facts, Groysman claims that the Free Trade Area established under the EU Association Agreement has already opened up huge new opportunities for Ukrainian exporters as well as for joint projects in Ukraine. «The government’s economic coalition has been tasked with developing these opportunities and transforming those prospects into a sustained trend». This is all far removed from reality.
By getting rid of Yatsenyuk and promoting his own man for the job, Poroshenko has started a game that may prove dangerous for him. No longer will he be able to use the chairman of the cabinet as a scapegoat. Now Poroshenko will be vulnerable to any criticism, including censure about his protégé’s judgment errors while prime minister. However, he lacks sufficient support in both the Verkhovna Rada as well as society, and above all, he does not possess the resources he would need to even somewhat rectify the situation.
Many Ukrainian journalists believe that Yatsenyuk’s resignation has made the country’s situation even more complicated because of the worsening crisis, especially given the accusations that the president was cultivating «a swamp of corruption» within the country. «It will speed up the pace of the mounting frustration with the country’s ruling elite headed by the only powerful politician – President Poroshenko»,writes the news website Hvylya.
It is worth noting that Andriy Parubiy will most likely be elected to fill Groysman’s office as the head of parliament. He led the protests at Maidan and according to many witnesses personally took part in the provocative gunfire and the killings of both Berkut riot police as well as demonstrators during the February (2014) coup. As a leader of the Verkhovna Rada, he will be able to not only significantly complicate Poroshenko’s life, with whom he has a very hostile relationship, but to also plunge the country into reckless new escapades. Especially when one considers that according to the Ukrainian constitution, it is the head of parliament who must take over as acting president if the head of state is incapacitated. And Parubiy has a wealth of experience manufacturing such situations.



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Categories: conflict zones, latest