Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Successes and failures of Ukraine’s foreign policy in 2020

2020 was very busy and intense for Ukrainian diplomats. Against the backdrop of a pandemic that radically changed the world, becoming a catalyst for global transformations, Ukrainian diplomacy faced many challenges and tasks. It took a certain amount of time to find a way for further existence and effective functioning. In the context of the war in Donbas and the crises accompanying the pandemic, it was necessary to make fast and at the same time balanced decisions. Analyzing the passing year, we can state that despite all the difficulties, Ukraine's position in the diplomatic dimension has strengthened in 2020.

Among the diplomatic successes that have become factors in strengthening the position of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba singles out 7 main ones:

Strengthened the security of Ukraine;

Raised Russia's cost for its aggression against Ukraine;

Supported citizens and the medical system of Ukraine to fight COVID-19;

Many Ukrainians were released from prison abroad;

Ukraine demonstrated leadership in bilateral relations and in the Central European region;

Helped Ukrainian exporters around the world;

The first stage of large-scale digitalization at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been completed.

Ukraine was recognized as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner for NATO. NATO member states have shown a strong solidarity with Ukraine by conducting "Joint Forces" military exercises in southern Ukraine and in the Black Sea. During the exercise, the largest landing training operation took place, in which units of the Airborne Assault Troops of the Armed Forces of Ukraine operated together with servicemen from the 16th Air Assault Brigade of the British Armed Forces.

In the political dimension, Ukraine has deepened cooperation with other countries at the bilateral and multilateral levels. The Lublin Triangle was created together with Poland and Lithuania. For the first time in 70 years, Ukraine has headed the Danube Commission. For the first time, the state nominated a candidate for the post of BSEC Secretary General. A historic agreement was signed with the United Kingdom, launching a qualitatively new level of strategic partnership. The document attaches the strategic importance to the bilateral agenda and determines the main directions of the development of Ukrainian-British relations.[1] In addition, an agreement was signed with Britain on the development of the Ukrainian Navy and the construction of infrastructure for their base in the amount of 1.25 billion pounds.

The important point was that Ukraine managed to maintain a neutral position and was not involved in the presidential campaign in the United States, despite all the manipulations and attempts to do so. Also, arms were delivered from the United States. Security, defense and military-technical agreements were signed with Turkey (Bayraktar, Navy, engines). Ukraine and Turkey have created the «Quadriga» format, which includes annual meetings of foreign and defense ministers to discuss political and security issues. The first meeting in this format was held in December.

Earlier this year, Dmytro Kuleba announced the intentions to develop and deepen Ukraine's relations with Asian countries. During an online briefing on the diplomatic results of 2020, the Minister said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already developed and started implementing the Asian Strategy, but this document will become public after the Cabinet of Ministers approves the General Strategy of Ukraine's foreign policy.[2] The development of the Asian vector is a very positive signal, as so far the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was mostly focused on Euro-Atlantic integration, while leaving other foreign policy directions without due attention.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided assistance to citizens and the healthcare system in countering the spread of COVID-19. In the fight against COVID-19, humanitarian aid was attracted from many countries around the world. Under the conditions of the pandemic, in the diplomatic dimension, Ukraine did not let the Russian Federation make sanctions against it less loose under the pretext of COVID-19 and achieved an increase in sanctions pressure.

Ukraine has initiated the Crimean Platform, an international platform for discussing the problems around Crimea and the future de-occupation of the peninsula. The initiative will be the first format created since Russia's annexation aimed to work towards the return of the Crimea.

In addition, the Foreign Ministry paid a great attention to economic aspects, promotion of Ukrainian exports and cooperation with domestic companies. According to Minister Kuleba, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has transformed the Council of Exporters and Investors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into an effective body. Also, in October, Ukraine and the EU have agreed to renew the Association Agreement.

The main diplomatic defeat was the failure to fully implement the Paris agreements negotiated within the framework of the «Normandy format». The Ukrainian side expected to hold the next meeting this year, but Russia abandoned the idea of holding a summit before Ukraine fulfills its political commitments following the Paris meeting. For Ukraine, the security issue is crucial. First, the state must take control over the border, then Ukraine is ready to hold elections in «ORDLO». This position is contrary to the «Minsk agreements», and Russia is not ready to review them. Under such conditions, the process of peaceful settlement in Donbass is practically frozen.

The lack of consistency and a clear position of Ukraine's representatives in the situation around the elections in Belarus has caused some concern. Undoubtedly, Ukrainian diplomacy acted situationally, as evidenced by the contradictions in the statements of diplomats and parliamentarians. This situation is the evidence that the state does not have a clear vision and a defined strategy for neighboring countries. Ukraine had waited for the reaction of the partner states and later has joined the sanctions against Lukashenko's government. Joining the sanctions is a logical step on the part of Ukraine, but the state should base its foreign policy on the national interests of Ukraine itself. Obviously, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have a clear strategy for relations with other states.

A big blow to Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations was dealt by the decision of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine to abolish criminal liability for false declarations. In EU actions of the court were regarded as the basis for a possible temporary suspension of the visa-free regime. In addition, cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and macro-financial assistance from the European Union in the amount of 1.2 billion euros were put at risk. A Constitutional Court of Ukraine ruling of October 27 violated the key obligations that Ukraine assumed in relation to its international partners, including the EU and has created obstacles between Ukraine and other states which helped Ukraine in building of anti-corruption system, including the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea. However, the quick reaction and consistent actions aimed at resolving the crisis that arose, made it possible to maintain the support of international partners and find a path for further settlement.

In 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs strengthened the foundation and launched important initiatives for the further development of Ukraine's foreign policy. Among the priorities for the next year, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba highlighted the following:

1) Countering the Russian Federation on all fronts and strengthening the security of state;

2) Combating COVID-19 and protecting the health of Ukrainian citizens;

3) Launch of the «Crimean platform»;

4) Increasing the efficiency of relations with Ukrainians abroad;

5) Increasing Ukrainian exports in the world and attracting investment to the country;

6) Work to ensure that Ukraine maintains and strengthens its position in the field of renewable energy, in particular in the field of hydrogen energy;

7) «New Geographical Discoveries»: promotion of Asian, African and Latin American tracks.[3]

But unfortunately, among these initiatives, unlike Georgia, there is no issue of giving Ukraine a NATO Membership Action Plan, and still there is a question: will Ukraine continue to adhere to the policy of concessions addressing the Hungarian-Ukrainian crisis?

But despite these significant gaps, an important area of work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in 2021 will be cooperation within the «Lublin Triangle» and the deepening of relations with the United States. This year, Ukrainian diplomacy actively conducted its foreign policy. A number of important initiatives have been launched and documents have been signed that will determine Ukraine's further strategic partnership with other states. Against this background, the change of focus on the primacy of security and economic development on the part of the Foreign Ministry, the prospects of promoting regional initiatives and expanding the range of ties by building cooperation with Asia, Africa and Latin America, reflects the evolution of Ukraine's foreign policy. It is becoming more pragmatic. Next year, Ukraine should continue its initiatives, while maintaining the support of partner countries and making efforts to increase the cost for Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territories.