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Ukraine at the crossroads

By EDUARD PRUTNIK, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Jan. 24, 2014 at 12:04 AM   |   Comments

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KIEV, Ukraine, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- At the end of this month top-level European leaders will meet in Germany to discuss urgent issues of peace and security on the continent. Among these will be the ongoing standoff in Ukraine between President Viktor Yanukovych and a loose coalition of opposition forces.

The latest round of Ukraine's seemingly perpetual political turmoil started in November, when Yanukovych decided, at the last minute, not to sign agreement with the European Union for closer trade ties.

With crowds of protesters waxing and waning between several hundred thousand to just a few hundred over the ensuing weeks, the issues at stake have broadened to include a number serious and legitimate concerns about the problems of governance and demands for improving the quality of life for every citizen that have plagued this former Soviet republic since it became independent in 1991.

On the one hand, the protests show the continuing vibrancy of Ukraine's democracy, in a way that contrasts favorably with ever other former part of the U.S.S.R. Calls for closer ties with the European Union are a large, perhaps a majority, part of the spectrum of Ukrainian opinion, that must and will be allowed to compete for public acceptance and to influence our country's policies. The same must be accorded to those who disagree, as wells as those who believe that Ukraine must always pursue a balanced approached among its options.

Now, after more than two months, the stalemate continues in Kiev. The question is, can Ukrainians in both camps find a way to end the deadlock peacefully and democratically and find a mutually acceptable way to move the country forward?

Hopefully the answer is a positive one and mediation from Ukraine's international partners can play a constructive role. The costs of failure -- instability of a critical region of Europe -- would unacceptably high for Ukraine's stakeholders in Washington, Brussels and Moscow, as well as for all Ukrainians, whether they favor the government, the opposition or neither.

A key value in international mediation is to help the contending sides understand that all parties must be prepared for concessions if a satisfactory end to the ongoing political crisis is to be found.

Only constructive dialogue among all participants can bring positive results and then only if none of the mediators tries to overpower the other participants.

Instead of "egging on" their preferred side, Ukraine's partners must also cease regarding the country only as a piece on the geo-strategic chessboard between the East and the West.

Ukraine can be a united and stable country only as a bridge between Moscow and Brussels/Washington. Any attempts to turn Ukraine into a wall will divide the very heart of the country.

International mediators, per the agreement reached in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, must ensure that security guarantees for Ukraine's democratic development, territorial integrity and economical independence be extended. These guarantees should extend to Ukraine's democratically elected president and members of the legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, who shouldn't be involuntarily forced from office due to threats, violence or other intimidation.

As much as or more that those who support the government, opposition figures demanding new elections not provided for in the law and constitution are undermining the very "European values" they claim to champion.

Instead, international mediators can help encourage respect for the rule of law coupled with possible voluntary changes at the highest levels of office, if that would help improve the chances for a peaceful resolution to the current political crisis.

Rather than trying to effect political changes through confrontation on the streets, Ukraine must be guided by adherence to constitutional norms and normal political processes in anticipation of the presidential election of 2015. This is a path that can help consolidate normalization of the political environment in the country.

International mediators can also help address Ukraine's precarious economic situation, which has begun to stabilize but isn't yet on firm ground. Ukraine's economy can only benefit from increased tripartite trade between Kiev, Brussels and Moscow.

This is an objective fact of Ukraine's geographic circumstance, which should be apparent to all our international partners, as well as to all Ukrainians, though disagreements about the details will no doubt remain.

As for Ukraine's European friends, one of the most important measures they can take that would meet with a favorable response among all perspectives in Ukraine would be to expedite extension of visa-free travel agreement. Ukraine started its visa liberalization dialogue with Brussels back in 2008, yet EU leaders today claim that Ukraine must fulfill conditions to lift the cumbersome Schengen visa process, despite Kiev making substantial progress on all passport security issues.

Breaking the logjam on visas -- for which Ukraine has done all we can but to which Brussels now can respond favorably -- would be a suitable balance to the timely financial assistance and stabilization package provided from Russia, in the absence of comparable offers from any other quarter.

In addition, in any international mediation, Moscow's voice is no less important than Washington's and those of European capitals.

No democracy speaks with just one voice. Ukraine is no exception. Ukraine needs friends in all directions who understand that, and who can help us on the path to national reconciliation, peace and unity. Only that can provide Ukrainians with a free and prosperous future.

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(Eduard Prutnik is chairman of the Board of United World International Fund. He was a parliamentarian in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada from 2006-12 and a member of the Rada's Committee on Fuel and Energy Complex, Nuclear Policy and Nuclear Safety.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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