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UKRAINE: Finding Its Future as a Bridge Between Eurasia and the EU?
June 11, 2014
On Saturday, June 7th, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko was sworn into office in Kiev. Mr. Poroshenko enters an interesting geopolitical paradigm of how he leads a Ukraine situated between Russia's formation of a new Eurasian buffer zone and a NATO-oriented European Union (EU).
Securing 55% of Ukraine's general electorate, President Poroshenko seems to be the best poised to negotiate very sensitive issues that affect his country's future.
Verbally fluent in English, Russian and Ukrainian, President Poroshenko possesses a valuable understanding of Russian culture and politics. In addition, as a billionaire chocolate confectioner magnate known as the “Chocolate King”, he is viewed as a pragmatic businessman having varied business interests in the EU and Russia. As a Ukrainian, he speaks to many constituents desirous of a re-united country. Communicating in English, he calms fears in the US that his country will actively court a unilateral Russian alliance.
Beyond the speeches, with Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia as its neighbors, Ukraine sits squarely in the confluence of regional economic and military interests of Russia, the EU and NATO.
On May 29, Russia signed agreements with Kazakhstan and Belarus to create the Eurasian Economic Union (aka, “Eurasian Union”). While offering freedom of movement for goods and labor between these countries, the Eurasian Union is also considered to be Russia's military buffer with the EU and NATO. Contrasting Russia's efforts, Poroshenko’s election and campaign slogan “Live in a New Way" signaled to Ukrainians the new president's desire to reunite the break-away region of Crimea and quell militant separatists sympathetic to Russia's interests.
President Poroshenko has also expressed his commitment to re-start suspended trade agreements with the EU. Urban Ukrainians are squarely in the corner of joining the EU as a new member state and made their desires known in Poroshenko's election. However, as tensions mounted in March 2014 with Russia's occupation of Ukraine's Crimean region, free trade talks were suspended by EU officials. In his June 7th speech, President Poroshenko reiterated he intends to re-open negotiation of political and economic agreements with the EU. According to Poroshenko, “The pen is in my hands … European democracy, for me, is the best form of government invented by mankind.”
The Take Away
For Ukraine, the present represents an evolving and unique situation between two regional powers having opposite goals.
Russia's desire to establish a militaristic buffer zone between its borders and a NATO-led EU compounds President Porshenko's ability to navigate the challenge of not recognizing Russia’s stake in the Crimean region. As a former Soviet state, the Russian-speaking communities of Crimea are clamoring strongly for recognition of their language and culture in Ukrainian government. On the opposite end, Ukrainian youth and urban areas are clamoring to join the EU. What remains to be seen is how far Russia can push its interests in the newly-formed Eurasian Union that could influence President Poroshenko’s and the Ukraine’s Western backers to align with the EU.
As a provisional government is put into place, global mobility professionals are advised to consult the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs updated travel warning for traveling to Ukraine (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/ukraine-travel-warning.html).
Of additional importance, travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimean Peninsula is not encouraged, and, according to Russian State news sources, since March 31, 2014, foreign nationals require entry visas issued by Russian consular posts in order to enter Crimea (http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/726015).
For companies looking to Ukraine as an assignment destination, it is hoped that President Poroshenko’s election will bring some level of political stability to this country. However, for the near future, companies are advised to check with their local Ukrainian consular post and consult travel warnings on current immigration requirements for both business travel and work authorization requirements.
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