Ukrainians believed the west rubbished them and had “too rosy” a view of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair was warned, as Ukraine sought his support for EU membership 10 years after it won independence in 1991, newly released papers reveal.
As Ukraine set a goal of “European vocation”, Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, instead proposed the idea of “special neighbourhood status” for Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.
But Blair’s special adviser on Europe, Roger Liddle, asked the then PM to consider if it was “really fair to lump them together with Belarus and Moldova, writing: “This idea could go down pretty badly with the Ukrainians,” papers released by the National Archives reveal.
The UK’s ambassador in Kyiv, Roland Smith, was also critical, questioning if it was because we thought “Ukrainians are not really Europeans?
“Belarus is Europe’s last dictatorship while Moldova is Europe’s poorest country and the government does not control a significant part of its territory … Ukraine is a flawed democracy, not a dictatorship,” Smith wrote.
He added: “If we do think EU membership for Ukraine is ruled out, I think we have to ask ourselves why exactly we are prepared to countenance such a long-term goal for (among others) Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and the west Balkans, but not for Ukraine. Because Ukrainians are not really Europeans? Because countries which were part of the Soviet Union for longer than the Baltic states were incurably infected with the Soviet mentality? … Because we really think that Ukraine ought to go back to Russia, where she belongs? … The question is whether we recognise the Ukrainians’ right to aspire?”
Briefing Blair before a meeting with Putin, Liddle wrote: “The Ukrainians are depressed however that most of Europe and the new US administration is running them down. We have too rosy a view of Putin (who according to them is a clever, presentable power politician but no democratic hero) and we rubbish Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma made a direct and personal plea to Tony Blair to support the country’s EU membership ambitions in 2002, writing: “Knowing you as a sincere friend of Ukraine, I pin great hopes on your personal support in this exceptionally important issue.”
Liddle advised Blair that strengthening Ukraine’s shaky democracy and economy increased stability on the EU’s future eastern borders and would act “as a formidable barrier to any resurgence of Russian imperialism to the west”. Yet Britain had enjoyed a less “solicitous” relationship with Ukraine than the French and Germans.
“Kuchma may not be likable, but he is an important player, well plugged in to his immediate neighbours. He meets Putin once every 4-6 weeks,” Liddle wrote.
While the French president, Jacques Chirac, had laid on a “magnificent state banquet” for Kuchma, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, had a “big annual summit” with him, Britain had neglected Ukraine in terms of “senior level political contact”, Liddle wrote.
“Yet the Ukrainians want to build a special relationship with us if only we would show more interest.”
Source : The Guardian