Ukrainian foreign policy beyond EU

Ukrainian Foreign Policy beyond the EU and NATO Integration: Lessons Still to Learn

Since 2015, the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism” has been producing a comprehensive analysis of foreign policy [1]performance by major Ukrainian public agencies, the parliament, and non-governmental institutions. The annual assessment covers all specific areas that form the necessary preconditions for effective and result-oriented foreign policy.

To reach a goal in the foreign policy domain, one needs to possess sufficient political will, generate strategic vision adequate to realities on the ground, secure strong inter-agency bonds and cooperation, as well as translate plans into real deeds. Seemingly, a very simple algorithm of policy drafting and execution appears sometimes to be a daunting task for policy-makers, which, in the end of the day, leads to drastic underperforming in the foreign policy domain.

Political Will to Act

Here one needs to mention that the general impression of the Ukrainian external affairs track is rather positive for rank-and-file Ukrainians and observers from abroad. That is predominately due to the intensive activities of Ukrainian authorities along the four main priorities on foreign policy agenda. It is important to indicate that at the 13th Ukrainian Ambassadorial Meeting, which took place in August 2018, the President of Ukraine singled out the following priorities: keeping and enhancing the transatlantic coalition to support Ukraine, countering Russian aggression; European and Euro-Atlantic integration as ways of guaranteeing Ukraine’s security; value-based economic diplomacy; and actions to hold Russia legally accountable for its actions according to the international law. These above-mentioned topics were pointed out by the President of Ukraine, Ukrainian Prime Minister and governmental team, the Foreign Minister, and MPs during numerous international meetings and addresses.

Having all these topics as a reference point, experts show that the least attention coming from the political actors was paid to the regions of MENA, Latin America, and Central Asia, climate change, and international security issues.

One might argue that a more detailed position regarding separate geographic or functional directions of the country’s foreign policy is traditionally presented in the analytical report to the Annual Address of the President of Ukraine to the Parliament 2018. However, it is difficult to state how exactly the National Institute for Strategic Studies’ expert propositions correlate with the political position of President P. Poroshenko and, thus, to what extent they are considered as an action plan for the MFA and other public bodies.

In Search of a Concerted and Strategic Foreign Policy

The same approach might be traced in the Ukrainian inter-agency coordination efforts. In general, according to experts, the highest coordination in Ukraine’s foreign policy in 2018 was implemented in the following directions: Belarus, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, economic cooperation with the EU, Euro-Atlantic integration, and public diplomacy. Despite some initiatives launched in the regions of Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of domestic cooperation regarding these regions was present.

In 2018, the scope of Ukraine’s strategic documents determining the country’s foreign policy and creating relevant instruments to counter Russian aggression was replenished. On the one hand, elaboration of concepts and strategies in separate directions of foreign policy is a positive development. On the other hand, there have been no practical steps at the official level with regard to developing a single unified document of strategic level in the sphere of foreign policy.

Among positive developments that went further than merely outlining strategic visions vis-?-vis the EU, USA, and NATO, one has to name the second stage of developing the Export Strategy of Ukraine – Strategic Trade Development Road Map 2017-2021, within whose frames sector and cross-sector export strategies should be developed. In the same line we consider the approval of the Strategy of the Development of the Military and Industrial Complex of Ukraine until 2028, which envisages Ukraine’s bigger presence at world markets, active promotion of new modern arms and military equipment made in Ukraine at the foreign market.

The State Program of Cooperation with Ukrainians Worldwide until 2020 determines the tasks that are to be implemented by providing financial support to diaspora communities (using the funds of Ukraine’s state and local budgets).

Unfortunately, the majority of geographic and functional foreign policy directions remained without medium-term plans or mentioning in strategic documents, which in its turn has a negative impact on developing and implementing efficient and fruitful policy. According to the experts, there is almost a lack of strategic frames when it comes to relations with France, Hungary, Iran, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Central Asia, as well as international security issues and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Proactive Foreign Policy

According to the results of expert reviews of the country’s foreign policy in 49 directions in 2018, Ukraine takes a proactive stand, constantly increases and diversifies official contacts, and improves its foreign policy instruments. High scores are observed in the domains of interaction with G7, EU, NATO, and OSCE, both as multilateral platforms and with individual members. One should add here the cooperation with separate neighbouring non-EU and non-NATO countries, such as Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia.

As for the regions, Ukraine’s efforts were more intensive when it came to the Baltic countries and Northern Europe, as well as in the Middle East. It is worth noting that in March 2018, P. Poroshenko made the first in 15 years presidential visit to Kuwait and visited Qatar as well. Visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE became important steps to give a boost to Ukraine’s presence in the region.

As for economic diplomacy, 2018 saw an enhanced practice of trade missions visiting other countries. At the beginning of April, the first Ukrainian trade mission to Ghana and Nigeria took place. Trade missions to Israel and Turkey were also undertaken.

Yet, an extremely low level of activity can be observed in the regions of Central Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, Iran and China.

Results and Expectations: Beyond the Priorities

Against this backdrop, the results of foreign policy performance in 2018 are mixed if we put aside the above-mentioned core priorities.

Ukrainian authorities were quite successful in forming an international coalition of partners to support the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Much was achieved in the UN framework even though Ukraine is no longer a non-permanent member of the SC. In general, international political and legal support for Ukraine in fighting Russian aggression is getting bigger; yet, some influential regional and global leaders (Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India, China, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa) are far from being in the focus of Ukrainian diplomacy attention. The results of work in the regions of South Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia are traditionally low, which points to the necessity of a more active and thorough policy coming from the Ukrainian diplomatic team. Against this backdrop, it is interesting that Ukraine provided humanitarian aid to Yemen, the Republic of Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to help overcome famine.

As for achievements in the sphere of economic diplomacy, first of all it is important to mention the government’s work on reviewing and optimizing instruments of joint intergovernmental committees. There is a positive dynamic when it comes to economic and trade contacts; for instance, an agreement was signed with Qatar on launching a joint committee on economic, trade, and technical cooperation.

On November 21, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a free trade agreement with Israel, while the free trade agreement between Ukraine and Turkey has not been finalized yet despite the promise of both countries’ authorities to do it before the end of 2018.

In the area of parliamentary diplomacy 2018, the Verkhovna Rada additionally launched three groups on interparliamentary relations, having increased the general number of such groups to 94. Another crucial step was a creation of the “Georgia-Moldova-Ukraine” Interparliamentary Assembly.

According to the experts, the highest results were achieved following Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts in the UN and the Council of Europe. Its political dialogue with the European Union has also been highly rated. The lowest scores were given to the results of the Ukrainian foreign policy towards Iran and in the region of Central Asia. The average score that demonstrates considerable untapped potential of Ukraine’s foreign policy was received for the following: economic diplomacy, cooperation with the European Energy Community, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, Visegrad Four and the Black Sea region, as well as all issues of multilateral diplomacy (protection of human rights, climate change, international security, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, etc.).

How to Balance and Streamline the Foreign Policy of Ukraine

In order to intensify and balance Ukraine’s foreign policy performance in the “forgotten” regions and functional domains, the experts recommend to the Ukrainian policy-makers, inter alia, to focus on the following important steps:

  1. The President of Ukraine and the Ukrainian foreign policy team have to develop Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Strategy until 2025. As an integral part of it, regional and thematic (functional) roadmaps/policies should be designed. Ukraine needs such regional roadmaps for the Middle East, the Black Sea region, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, peacekeeping activities, and more.
  2. It is necessary to strengthen work with global and regional leaders that are not in the focus of the Ukrainian authorities now. These include Brazil, Egypt, Israel, India, Morocco, Kazakhstan, China, South Africa, Peru, and others.
  3. The MFA and the Parliament should audit existing instruments of bilateral cooperation, define positive and challenging aspects, and outline best practices that can be used in relations with other countries.
  4. To foster economic diplomacy, it is crucial to complete the second stage of outlining sectoral and cross-sectoral strategies as part of the Export Strategy of Ukraine.
  5. Given the positive experience of setting up budgets for public diplomacy, trips of Ukrainian experts, and international cultural events, the MFA leadership and MPs should envisage respective funding for commissioning outsourced expertise to cover the needs of the MFA geographic departments.

[1] Ukrainian Prism: Foreign Policy Scorecards.

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