The Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents an interview with Dr. Michael Martin Richter, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey, on the assessment of Ukraine’s EU accession initiatives.
1.How do you assess the relations between the EU and Ukraine and the accession negotiations that will start in December?
Relations between the EU and Ukraine have changed and recontextualized considerably since the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Before the aggression, these relations revolved around cooperation with the EU. However, the conflict with Russia has fundamentally changed the dynamic. Today, these relations are about Ukraine’s closer integration into the EU.
Russia’s aggression in Ukraine acted as a catalyst for change. Moscow initially expected the EU to be divided and unable to form a united front in support of Ukraine. The reason for this was the strong dependence of some member states on Russia, particularly in the energy sector. However, the EU member states disappointed the Kremlin and showed remarkable unity. This unity was driven by the EU’s commitment to uphold international law, its desire to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its drive to counter Russia’s attempts to redraw borders through war.
One of the most remarkable developments in EU-Ukraine relations has been the transition from integration initiatives to a formal membership perspective. In principle, the EU has opened the door to future membership for Ukraine and accession negotiations will officially begin in December. This shows that the EU is officially supporting Ukraine on its European path. It is worth remembering that Kiev has expressed its desire for EU membership since the 1990s.
However, the future of relations between the EUand Ukraine remains an open question mark. The path to full membership of the EU will depend on Ukraine’s ability to implement the necessary reforms, bring its institutions into line with EU standards and demonstrate its commitment to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance. The success of this accession process will depend on Ukraine’s ability to overcome its internal challenges and, in particular, to tackle the major problem of corruption. There are also a number of factual for the EU.
Many observers have claimed that EU member states are suffering from “membership fatigue”. Therefore, it is important to conduct this process in a reciprocal manner. Ukraine needs to do its part in the coming years, while the member states need to support Ukraine in this process. Otherwise, “waiting for many years at Europe’s doorstep” could lead to disappointment and eventually damage pro-European tendencies in member states.
2.Can you explain in detail the efforts made by the United States (US) and the EU to increase their support for Ukraine?
The US and the EU have made significant efforts to provide both military and financial assistance in support of Ukraine. These aids are vitally important for Ukraine to be able to continue its ongoing defense and governance tasks and to alleviate the suffering of civilians affected by the conflict. Military aid will greatly contribute to Ukraine’s ability to maintain its defense capabilities.
In this matter, the US has emerged as the largest contributing actor with approximately 75 billion dollars in aid, a significant portion of which, about 42 billion dollars, has been allocated for military purposes. This military aid includes the supply of different types of weapon systems, ammunition, training programs, and other resources aimed at sustaining Ukraine’s defense efforts. Despite some criticisms in the media, Germany has come forward as the second-largest contributor to Ukraine’s military efforts, with donations in this area reaching 17.1 billion dollars.
All these contributions, mentioned only for the two largest donors, have played a key role in the conflict. As of July 31, 2023, the total military support pledged to Ukraine has nearly reached 90 billion dollars. If we compare these figures with Ukraine’s economic size, which had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 200 billion dollars in 2021, and Russia’s defense spending of approximately 81.7 billion dollars in 2022, the vital importance of international military aid becomes evident.
This comparison has enabled Ukraine to theoretically maintain its ability to resist a larger adversary. On the other hand, financial and humanitarian aid is critical in maintaining the functionality of Ukraine’s administrative and governance structures. It also provides humanitarian assistance to civilians negatively affected by the ongoing conflict. In this area, the EU, together with member states, has exceeded the amount of assistance provided to Ukraine compared to the US’s financial aid of approximately 24 billion dollars. The EU and its member states have provided more than 40 billion dollars in financial and humanitarian aid. In addition, the “New Ukraine Facility” has been established, which has approved an economic package worth a total of 50 billion euros including grants and loans for the years 2024 to 2027. Especially considering the 38 billion dollars deficit projected in Ukraine’s 2023 budget due to the ongoing war, this economic assistance is critically important for Ukraine. Without this substantial economic aid, Ukraine’s financial situation would become unsustainable, and its ability to address an existential threat resulting from the occupation would be further challenged.
3.What kind of positive outcomes might the green light for the start of membership negotiations with the EU have for Ukraine?
The green lighting of the start of membership negotiations with the EU represents a significant and transformative development for Ukraine and could bring a series of positive outcomes for the country. First and foremost, it signals a critical opportunity for Ukraine to enter into a clear and well-defined process for EU membership. With the initiation of membership negotiations, Kyiv would have a concrete roadmap that was previously lacking. The criteria under the association agreement were often vague and the roadmap did not specify the association perspective and the path to membership with the EU. This change in the rules of the game could increase the motivation to comply with the criteria specified in the negotiation chapters and could steer Ukraine towards making the necessary reforms, especially in challenging areas such as anti-corruption measures. The EU’s willingness to concretize the membership perspective for Ukraine will largely depend on Ukraine’s ability to reach these milestones and commitments.
However, the success of this journey will not only depend on Ukraine. The EU plays a critical role in sending the right signals to Ukraine. Brussels must clearly state that membership is possible for Kiev if the reforms are truly implemented. The recent statements by Charles Michel calling for expansion by 2030 are seen as positive steps. Ukraine may not be part of the first wave of this expansion, but the mere fact that such a process has begun could serve as a strong incentive to increase Ukraine’s commitment to reforms and to intensify its efforts to be among the countries in the second wave.
Essentially, Ukraine’s journey beginning in December represents a long and arduous one. The ultimate goal will depend on the joint efforts of both Kiev and the EU member states. A reformed Ukraine, as a geographic and economic entity, will undoubtedly be valuable to the EU. From a moral perspective, the Ukrainian people have the right to realize their European dream for which so much blood has been shed to date. Therefore, it is imperative that both sides seize this opportunity and work together to bring Ukraine closer to EU membership, a move that has the potential to strengthen both Ukraine and the EU in a number of ways.
Dr. Michael Martin Richter
Dr. Michael Martin Richter is involved in the Horizon Europe REDEMOS Project, focusing on the EU’s promotion of democracy abroad at the University of Surrey. He has previously served as a Research Assistant at the Research Center for East European Studies at the University of Bremen and has also held a visiting professorship at Harvard University. He obtained his doctorate in Political Economy from the University of Bremen with a thesis titled “Power, Politics, and Anti-Corruption Reforms in Ukraine: The Role of Western Actors.” His research concentrates on governance reforms in post-Socialist spaces. His work has been featured in publications such as Global Policy, Vox Ukraine, and New Eastern Europe. Dr. Richter’s contributions, especially in the context of the EU’s promotion of democracy and governance reforms in Eastern Europe, significantly enrich the academic discourse in international relations.