Foreign Policy

Kyiv vs Budapest: What`s going on in Ukrainian-Hungarian relations?

24.10.2018
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ICPS Press

The relations between Ukraine and Hungary are a textbook example of the crisis, in which neither party considers actions to be acceptable, while both overestimate their capabilities and underestimate the risks and losses associated with the conflict. For more than a year there are sharp controversies, the trigger for which was the new Law on Education, which was adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on September 5, 2017.

The Hungarian reaction, which initially concerned the protection of the rights of the minority and the territory of Ukraine to receive education in the Hungarian language, quickly spread to the questions of Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, citizenship and political cooperation. The conflict has reached a high level, it has acquired signs of scandal and, seems, it has the potential for further deepening. It is precisely to be said that both countries should prepare for a long cooling period and mutual distrust.

What's gone wrong? “Collision of Identities” or “Modus vivendi”

The relations between Hungary and Ukraine had much better time. Neighbors, united by common issues and challenges in the area of security, geography and history, have long remained friends. Hungary was one of the first to recognize Ukraine's independence, and subsequently became one of the key regional partners. Political cooperation deepened after Hungary joined NATO and the EU, and Ukraine made European and Euro-Atlantic vectors a priority in its foreign policy.

However, at some point the situation began to change. Hungarians began to concentrate additional attention on the rights of ethnic minorities in neighboring states; Ukrainians began to develop a national identity against the backdrop of Crimean occupation and armed conflict in the eastern part of the country. In both states, speculation on the historical and national themes began to be used high demand; while in the region of Eastern Europe the right political ideas and forces have intensified. The low level of economic interdependence and trade was due to: the benefits of hostility dominated the existing benefits from cooperation. Hungary as a member of NATO and the EU received additional levers of pressure on Ukraine, which made membership in both organizations a priority of their foreign policy. Even without any “Kremlin hand” there were enough motives for both sides to raising rates.

Escalation occurred quickly and predictably. Following the adoption of the Law on Education in new edition by the Verkhovna Rada, which narrowed the right of ethnic minorities to acquire education in their native language, Budapest promised to block Ukraine's further rapprochement with NATO and the EU. A practical step in this direction was the obstruction of the work of the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) at the highest level. Subsequently, the Hungarian government scheduled the appointment of “an authorized minister responsible for the development of Transcarpathia and develop kindergartens in the Carpathian basin”, which provoked strong protests from the official Kyiv.

However, the loudest scandal for today was the distribution of Hungarian passports in the Consulate of Hungary in Berehovo, which got on the video. After this incident, which was described by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine V. Bondar as “that Hungary behaves like Transcarpathia is its territory”, Ukraine sent out a Hungarian consul, and Hungary replied symmetrically. The distribution of Hungarian passports in Transcarpathia lasts at least since 2011, but it is the peculiarities of the current perception of the parties that exacerbate the situation.

Of course, the reactions of both parties are conditioned by the logic of the already existing confrontation, and each step is perceived to be extremely hostile, while the actions and intentions of the other party cause the maximum suspicion. In this atmosphere of mutual distrust, the next crisis moment remains a matter of time.

Today, relations between Hungary and Ukraine are in a state of crisis, and in the near future this crisis will deepen rather than be resolved. Budapest reaction was resolute, demonstrative and well thought out to Ukraine's adoption of the new edition of the Law on Education. Ukraine's response to the rhetoric did not slow down, and very quickly the parties came to a standstill of mutual accusations and threats. Can Kyiv and Budapest afford the luxury of a long-lasting conflict in the current geopolitical situation?

It looks like they can. You can even benefit from it if you have certain skills. Confrontation with neighbors is a powerful and cheap factor for internal mobilization, which will be pleased to use by Hungarian and Ukrainian politicians who are prone to populism. However, the weakening of the international positions of both states will be a price. For Ukraine, such a relaxation looks more undesirable, as in general, Ukraine's position in the conflict with Hungary seems weaker. We are certainly bigger, but Hungary can effectively use its membership in the EU and NATO as a tool of pressure.

If things are going to continue, then further deployment of events can be conventionally called “collision of identities”. It will be less scale than in the clash of civilizations, but in all other parallels will be justified. Identities will be based on symbolic elements, opposition to neighbors, mythologization and heroism of their own history. As a result, it will expand cultural divides, reducing the chances of a future dialogue. Ukrainians and Hungarians are at risk of speaking shortly in different languages - not only in linguistic but also in meaningful terms.

To a certain extent, both countries have become hostage to regional processes, in particular the growing influence of nationalism as a political ideology. The region of Eastern Europe was in the center of mood and emotion, inherent in the period of a century ago. Then the collapse of the empires and the emergence of new states provoked the race for identity: the countries of the region created national myths and overcome the severe consequences of the First World War. This then formed new identities in Eastern Europe, mainly by ethnosymbolism with a rate on language, history, and symbols, which eventually led to the boundary between rational civil nationalism in the west and mystical irrational and ethnic nationalism in eastern Europe.

Today, the challenge is to find ways to avoid identity collisions and to implement a more optimistic scenario under the so-called “modus vivendi”. Such a scenario would provide for the possibility of coexistence with differences, dialogue from different positions and a joint search for mechanisms to protect each other's interests.

Battle of syndromes

As it often happens, the situation is complicated by historical factors. Both Ukraine and Hungary have a difficult past, full of dramas and injuries, and the past has a strong influence on the ways of forming and developing national identities and perceptions of relations with neighbors. Briefly, this effect can be called a “battle of syndromes”.

In Hungary, this syndrome is called “Trianon”. After losing World War I, Hungary under the terms of the Treaty of Trianon of 1920 lost more than two-thirds of its territory and more than half of the population, and Hungarians ethnic minority with a total of more than three million people found themselves within the borders of neighboring states. Within Hungary, the difficult conditions of peace were perceived as a national tragedy, which greatly contributed to the formation of a revanchist foreign policy between the World Wars. After the end of the Second World War, the territory of Hungary as a whole was preserved within the framework defined by the terms of the Treaty of Trianon. And although the “Trianon syndrome” today should not be compared to what was in the 1920s-1930s, when the state flags dropped to mourn for the signed agreement, but it continues to exist in the public consciousness and, most importantly, used by political forces for easy and quick conquest of public support. Ethnic minorities of Hungarians in neighboring countries - and most of them are 1.5 million minority in Romania - are an important part of the “Trianon syndrome”. In the modern world, where the review of the state borders is an extremely expensive, ineffective, rare and dubious matter for frank and cynical revisionists, the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities becomes the main instrument of ethnocentric politics, a kind of contemporary analogue of irredentist. The concept of “great Hungary” during the period between the World Wars envisaged the gathering of territories; today, instead of it, there is the option of a state policy of active support for national minorities in neighboring states.

Ukraine has its own syndromes. They do not have such an obvious historical point of origin, but they are also related to historical memory, the struggle for statehood and the construction of national identity. Perhaps, at the moment, such syndromes as Crimea, Donbas or even Budapest, under the name of a well-known memorandum, are being formed, which in the future will affect Ukrainians' perceptions of history, neighbors and their own destinies in Europe. One way or another, these syndromes affect the decision both within the state and in relation to neighbors.

The development of national identity on the basis of ethnosimvolism - with the use of linguistic, religious markers and historical symbols - with the heroization of certain periods of history and rethinking of historical mistakes - poses additional risks of exacerbating relations with neighbors. And if these neighbors also take decisions under the influence of historical memories, then such risks are doubling.

What to do?

Both countries lose the continuation and exacerbation of the conflict. Ukraine receives absolutely unnecessary problems on its western frontiers and additional brakes in further rapprochement with NATO and the EU. Hungary also runs the risk. The sanctions against Budapest, which are discussed within the EU, are extremely unlikely, but the image of a country lacking European values will not benefit Hungary in the future. At the same time ethnic minorities - Hungarians in Ukraine and Ukrainians in Hungary - instead of the most complete protection of their interests, they receive additional risks.

To overcome the logic of confrontation, complex and non-standard decisions are required. Simple formulas, such as “to leave history for historians” from a similar Ukrainian-Polish conflict, will not work. Conflicts of this kind contain too many politics to rely on historians. It is unlikely that the hopes for interdependence will be justified, that is, the common economic interests will prevail over the motives behind the escalation of inter-ethnic confrontation. Hungary's share in Ukraine's foreign trade is about 3%, while Ukraine's share in Hungary's foreign trade is roughly halved. Therefore, the formula for a successful solution should be based on a political component.

One of the possible ways could be the creation of a wider regional context. If we realize that Ukraine and Hungary are part of a single region, establishing cooperation and maintaining a common consent in which could significantly expand the capabilities of both countries, then the level of escalation of the conflict can be kept under control. The regional level can open new horizons for both states if they can get out of captivity thinking only by today's categories.

In Ukraine, you often hear references to the “Kremlin hand” and the fact that Ukraine's conflicts with its neighbors are in the interests of Moscow. Such an argument is unlikely to be convincing for Budapest: only 6% of Hungarians consider the threat of possible escalation or expansion of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It is best to bet on the argument that a bilateral conflict undermines the potential of Hungary and Ukraine itself.

It is also important to understand what interests are behind the stated positions of the parties. Sometimes such interests are simple enough, but they are often complex. The fact that the other party aspires, it is better not to guess or speculate, but to know. In the open dialogue on these issues, both Kyiv and Budapest are interested. Expansion of communication, explanation of own motives, timely informing of intentions can strengthen bilateral trust, even in the context of crisis in relations. In addition, understanding the interests of the opponent opens the way for mutual concessions. The discovery of nuances will turn the black-and-white conflict between “good and evil” into a half-tone full picture. This, in turn, will allow you to look at the possibilities of mutual concessions not from the positions of the game with a zero sum, but with the desire to find common solutions.

An additional useful step could be something like an informal agreement on the non-use of anti-Hungarian and anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in the internal narratives of both countries. It is obvious that national issues in both countries have become a means of mobilizing the electorate and will remain for a long time. National slogans, historical myths and ethnic symbols are much easier to apply in a political struggle than unpopular and complex reforms. Nevertheless, it makes sense to make national rhetoric as popular as possible. The boundary between patriotism and xenophobia or ethnic hostility must be pursued.

Both countries could look for opportunities to implement joint projects in areas of significant interest to them: energy, regional security, ecology, and the fight against transnational threats. If it allows elites to earn more political points than they do with aggressive rhetoric, then there will be a chance to get out of the most likely way to “collision of identities” and implement the “modus vivendi” scenario. The strategic partnership will still be far away, but the crisis phenomena in relations will be much less.

Conclusions

Conflicts between neighbors on the basis of ethnosimvolism - languages, minority rights, interpretation of history - the phenomenon is dangerous and difficult to regulate. In such conflicts, the logic of “zero - sum games” acts and in the end they often become a game with a negative amount, in which all lose.

Both Ukraine and Hungary are losing out of delaying the current crisis. They are losing time, opportunities, image and prospects. Probably, Ukraine loses more, but it is unlikely that it can become a satisfying pleasure in relations between potential partners. Both Kyiv and Budapest have experienced many sad and painful historical lessons that would have suggested that besides the interests of national selfishness, there are also regional security interests as well as an even broader transatlantic context. From overcoming the obstacle to cooperation, you can win much more than you have to pay for them.

Publications with tag «Foreign Policy»
Foreign Policy

Ukraine and V4 countries: promoting better understanding. Briefing for diplomatic missions in Ukraine

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16.05.2019
Foreign Policy

Minsk Format, Budapest Plus or Anything Else?

Ways to tackle long-term effects of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and to resolve a conflict between the two are in the focus of presidential campaign in Ukraine. But after elections are over, the issue will still remain on the top of the regional security agenda. For five years geopolitical effects of Kremlin’s aggressive decisions on Ukraine have been downgrading security architecture in Europe. This is not only a problem of Ukraine, but a common challenge. Lack of trust, application of violence, and institutional weakness are making Europe a more dangerous place.  The Minsk format, designed to contain the conflict in the East of Ukraine, has been the basic framework for managing the conflict. One thing is evident so far: it is apparently not enough. It proved helpful in containing Russian advance and freezing the conflict to a level of 100-150 battle casualties from each side annually. 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27.03.2019
Foreign Policy

Assessment of security challenges: consequences for Ukraine's foreign policy after the elections

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Foreign Policy

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Foreign Policy

Expert discussion on Ukraine-Poland relations. Webinar 3

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ICPS Press
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Foreign Policy

Ukrainian Foreign Policy: Results of 2018 and Prospects for 2019

2018 has been another difficult year for Ukraine and in particular for its foreign policy. Lack of progress in reforming the country puts strict limitations on what can be achieved internationally. As a result, most significant problems on the agenda – a protracted conflict in Donbas, tense relations with neighbors, insufficient international support – remained unresolved or got worse. As in previous years, Ukraine remains in a grey zone of European security and finds its low levels of efficiency and democracy in a sharp contrast with rhetoric about EU/NATO membership. Things seem to get worse recently also due to changes in strategic environment. The world becomes more prone to hard power and less democratic, while international politics is much closer to zero-sum game than it used to be five years ago. These trends are not favorable for countries like Ukraine – middle powers with weak economies in a dangerous environment. 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Among them are: changes in military operation from ATO to operation of united forces to  in the East of the country in accordance with an adopted Law on the Peculiarities of State Policy on Ensuring Ukraine’s State Sovereignty over Temporarily Occupied Territories in Donetsk and Luhansk Regions (hereinafter referred as Law on Donbas), accompanied by the talks on possible peacekeeping mission; high tensions with Western neighbors;  further deterioration of relations with Russia, resulted in non-prolongation of the Ukrainian-Russian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership (hereinafter referred to as Big Treaty) by Ukraine; Azov Crisis; and subsequent introduction of the martial law in Ukraine; beginning of lethal arms supplies from the USA; intensive rhetoric over cooperation with NATO and EU, resulted in Parliament’s voting for constitutional amendments stipulating Ukraine’s intentions to join both organizations. The Law on Donbas, which entered into force on February, 24th, was supposed to consolidate Ukraine’s efforts in areas of the-then anti-terrorist operation. The latter has been changed into United Forces Operation on April, 30th. The Law has been introduced to resolve legal issues related to the ongoing military operation and, as it soon became apparent, is unable to resolve the conflict. As times goes by, chances for quick and effective conflict resolution are diminishing. By the end of 2018 is has become clear that the idea of UN peacekeeping mission so much disputed a year ago, is more difficult to carry out than it initially seemed. Most likely, the conflict will follow the path of other post-Soviet frozen conflicts, allowing Russia tools for destabilization and partial control and undermining state efficiency in target countries. International environment of the conflict seems to remain quite stable, with Europeans and Americans aiming at minimizing risks of escalation and keeping the conflict at low intensity levels. Ongoing militarized conflict generates demand for a more “rally-around-the-flag” ideology, which has been more actively implemented in Ukraine in recent months. It has already impacted relations with Western neighbors, most evidently Hungary and Poland; and is likely to impact them further. The Law on Education, adopted by the Parliament in September, 5th, 2017, provoked negative reaction from Hungary, which has ever since effectively blocked Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO. Further escalation of tensions has been triggered by issues of citizenship: Hungarian consulate in Berehove has been recorded issuing Hungarian passports for Ukrainian citizens. A diplomatic scandal followed, as well as it became evident that Ukraine needs a more coherent approach to issues of dual citizenship. Moreover, on February, 6th, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted an acclamation in reaction to adoption of amendments to a Law on the Institute of National Memory in Poland. It signaled another round of Polish-Ukrainian clashes over historical issues, which are currently promoted by a rising influence of right ideologies in both countries. The bottom line of these developments is deterioration in Ukraine’s bilateral relations with its Western neighbors. This trend seems to be long-term and damaging Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. In what concerns Ukraine’s relations with its Eastern neighbor, Russia, things are hardly getting better. The year has been marked by continued discussions over the fate of the Big Treaty. In April president Poroshenko was offering denunciation of specific articles of the Treaty, but already in September a decision was taken not to extend the Treaty for the next ten-year period (as envisaged in the Article 40). Additionally, the corresponding Law has been approved by the Parliament later in December. The Treaty was a part of a huge normative basis of bilateral relations, totaling more than 450 agreements. About 40 of them have been terminated since 2014. Together with sanctions, introduced by Ukraine against Russia, weakening of the normative basis remains one of the very few instruments Ukraine implies in attempts to make Russia change its policies. In 2018, just like in previous years, a lack of long-term strategy of dealing with Russia has made most of the steps Ukraine was taking ineffective, costly and risky. Risks have become especially evident in December, when the crisis around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait broke out. Three Ukrainian ships with 24 sailors has been shot and captured by the Russian naval forces when attempting to get to the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait. Russian actions violated norms of international law, in particular the UN Charter and the Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as the Treaty for Cooperation in Utilizing the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait between Ukraine and Russia, singed in 2003. Ukraine’s reaction was more resolute than even in 2014 and involved introducing of a martial law, which however was accompanied by fierce political discussions at the Parliament. With the impact of the Martial Law unclear, it is evident, that the end of the year brought about another peak of escalation, capable to influence upcoming presidential elections. Relations with the United States have remained another priority of Ukraine’s foreign policy. The Crimea Declaration, issued by the State Department on July, 25th, was enthusiastically welcome in Ukraine. The document contains a notion that United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory of Crimea. It also refers to the Welles Declaration of 1940, framing similar position towards occupation of the Baltic States by the USSR. Administration of President Trump doesn’t seem to take a stance, which would be very different from the one of the Obama’s, but one difference has become apparent. On March, 1st, supplies of FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine have been approved by the State Department. The long awaited move was taken in Kyiv as a sign of American support in Ukraine’s war against Russian-backed separatists in the East of the country. President Obama was reluctant to approve weapons supplies to Ukraine for various reasons, most notably out of fear of conflict’s escalation. Russia’s actions were contained rather by sanctions than by arming Ukraine. President Trump took a more resolute stance. $350 million for military assistance to Ukraine was allocated in the budget for 2018. A subsequent decision to approve a $47 million supply of FGM-148 Javelin missiles and a $41.5 million supply of Barret M107A1 sniper rifles in 2018 must have been uneasy. The numbers are not very high: the total value of exported American weapons worldwide was about $42 billion in 2017, while supplies to Israel, a top-receiver of American arms, surpassed $3 billion in total. But nevertheless that may be an important step forward. Providing Ukraine with Javelins would certainly signal some level of support from the US, but a much more effective strategy would rest on series of arms transfers, within a properly designed time framework or even without an expiry date. Unlike a single delivery of even a rather sophisticated and/or expensive weapon, systematic supplies are capable of becoming a powerful deterring instrument. If Ukraine is to receive American weapons continuously, the strength of deterring signal to Moscow would be maximized. Deterrence of Russia inevitably involves rhetoric about NATO and EU membership on the part of Ukrainian officials. As the rhetoric becomes more persistent, Ukraine is hardly getting closer to what has been declared its top foreign policy priority. Lack of reforms which would introduce sustainable democracy, rule of law, and economic efficiency puts limits on how close Ukraine can get to become a member of either EU or NATO. At the same time, the European and Euro-Atlantic discourse of Ukraine’s foreign policy has already become dominant and in 2018 got additional impetus through the process of making constitutional amendments, launched by the President. They are supposed to turn Ukraine’s aspiration for EU and NATO membership into a constitutional norm in an attempt to make this strategic course irreversible. To a certain extent, this step can be seen as a symbol of Ukrainian foreign policy in the recent years. Declarations of the country’s pro-European choice have been accompanied by deterioration in relations with neighbors to the West, deadlock in managing conflict in Donbas, and a growing apathy on the part of major powers. Will anything change in the year to come? Setting for 2019 Years of presidential elections are usually turbulent in Ukraine. Next year’s two election campaigns may make foreign and security policy a hostage to internal political struggle. Features, which surely will persist, no matter who wins the elections, are structural to Ukrainian foreign policy. They include the following. First, Ukraine will remain in a grey zone of regional security. Lack of allies and security guarantees has been a key feature of Ukraine’s strategic environment, and will most likely remain. About two dozens of states, claimed by Ukrainian presidents as the country’s “strategic partners” do not have any security guarantees extended to Ukraine. Second, Ukraine will face asymmetry in almost any bilateral relations. Long-term weakening, lasting periods of destabilization, incoherence of foreign policy made Ukraine vulnerable not only to superior powers, like Russia, but also to smaller neighbors, which are members to NATO and EU. Managing asymmetry requires special skills, including multilateral formats, and thus may require new approaches from Ukrainian diplomacy. Third, improving foreign policy decision making remains important. The Law on Diplomatic Service, adopted June, 07 and entering into force December, 12 is only one step in that direction. Ukraine’s foreign policy bureaucracy remains largely inefficient, subordinated to issues of internal political struggle. These problems are also to be addressed. More specifically, the foreign policy agenda will most likely be dominated by the attempts to resolve the conflict in Donbas. Much will depend on whether a new president will be able to change Russia’s position and strengthen international support for Ukraine, be it in Normandy, Budapest+ or any other format. Religious issues will most likely be affecting election campaigns as Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be moving towards autocephaly. But their influence on foreign policy in the upcoming year will remain limited. Exploitation of religious, language, and national issues may become a part of longer term strategy of dealing with Russia, but a question remains whether it will be a good strategy. Ukraine should do its best to get relations with Hungary and Poland back to normal. Prolongation of conflicts on historical and linguistic grounds plays against interests of all, but most of all against Ukrainian interests. Intentions to join EU and NATO will continue to be main foreign policy slogans under any president in Ukraine. The question is how fast Ukraine will get closer to real cooperation with both. This question seems to be fundamental for the country’s foreign policy. Possible Scenarios Elections in the upcoming year open up some space for guesses and predictions. Although it is still hard to say who would be the winner of presidential and parliamentary campaigns, a variety of results can be boiled down to three basic scenarios. Scenario with incumbent leadership. Under this scenario current president in office would win elections and retain power in Ukraine. His control over Parliament would most likely diminish, but generally he will be able to carry out foreign and security policy of his choice. This choice will resemble current strategy. The conflict in the East will be frozen, and the conflict with Russia further instutitionalized, also as a part of Ukraine’s internal political agenda. Further construction of national identity would keep conflicts with Western neighbors open. Ukraine’s intention to join EU and NATO will dominate foreign policy discourse; however remain unfulfilled in five years. Scenario with a president ready to negotiate with Russia. Such a president will find it very challenging to carry out a strategy, aimed at reaching consensus with the Kremlin, since a large part of Ukrainian society takes any negotiations as a sign of capitulation. But if such a strategy would be put into practice, peace in the East will be the most valuable outcome. Whether it will lead to a comprehensive conflict resolution is doubtful, since this conflict is a part of a broader clash of interests. However, regaining control over Ukrainian territory and the border would be possible. Finding modus operandi with Russia would be the central part of the foreign and security policy. Scenario with a victory of right-wing/radical forces. Although not a likely scenario, it is still possible. It is also possible that any elected president would tend to take a more radical and a more right-wing stance, as it often happens in countries which experience wars or protracted military conflicts. If that is the case, the most likely foreign policy outcome would be deterioration of relations with the West, series of crises in relations with Ukraine’s Western neighbors, and escalation in relations with Russia. Foreign policy of such a president would be more risk-prone and, most likely, more isolated. Much will depend on observing democratic standards and the day of elections. Possible frauds, non-recognition of results by competing parties, or violence would significantly undermine legitimacy of the future president, decrease support from the West, and thus make external challenges even harder for him. Conclusion Ukraine finds itself in a quite complicated international environment, which will remain so for at least several years. Vulnerable to numerous challenges, having no allies and long-term strategy on most pressing security issues, the country is de facto implementing and most likely will proceed with ad hoc foreign policy. Fighting for its statehood and independence Ukraine will need a much more creative, flexible, and strategic foreign policy. A protracted conflict with Russia, vague perspectives to further deepen relations with Western institutions, and deteriorating regional neighborhood will set the scene for the next president of Ukraine in 2019.      

ICPS Press
25.12.2018