Over the past two years the relations improved greatly, yet diplomats should create a path uninfluenced by the Kremlin to make sure propaganda doesn’t get in the way of two countries cooperation.
Kyiv, June 14, 2016. Over the past 3 years, the Franco-Ukrainian relations have made more progress than over the previous years of Ukrainian independence. This opinion was expressed by Ukrainian experts presenting the research “Foreign Policy Audit: Ukraine-France” at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “I do not think that we have ever had this level of relations before. We have built a trustful contact at the senior leadership level and established a political dialogue which expands possibilities for bilateral cooperation,” noted Vasyl Khymynets, Director of First European Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. “Ukraine is among the top-5 priority partners of France,” said Isabelle Dumont, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Ukraine. “We want to develop French-Ukrainian bilateral relations in various fields […], including agriculture, transport, energy efficiency and other environmental projects.”
Experts said that over the three years France has contributed to expert advice on reforms in Ukraine and demonstrated its readiness to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine, in particular, through its participation in “Normandy format” and the EU sanctions against Russia. It is great progress that the French have ceased to consider Ukraine just a “white spot” on the map of Europe. “Normandy format” was one of the key factors in making the French society know more about what is happening in Ukraine, and sympathize with Ukraine. According to the research conducted by the Institute of World Policy in conjunction with GFK last year, the majority of French people believe that the conflict in eastern Ukraine is not a civil war, but the Russian aggression,” reported Leonid Litra, Senior Research Associate at the Institute of World Policy.
Meanwhile, as Mr. Khymynets noted, the resolutions adopted in France last month, raise concerns of Ukrainian side and prove the need for wider inter-parliamentary dialogue. The inter-parliamentary cooperation group is already working in the Verkhovna Rada, so the mechanism exists. “We must emphasize the fact that international law is a special, fundamental value in international relations. I think many people in the National Assembly and the Senate don’t realize the depth of Russia’s violation of international law,” he said. According to Ukrainian experts, this state of affairs is due to the activities of the powerful pro-Russian lobby in France, including in parliamentary circles.
But according to Olivier Védrine, French expert, President of Continental University of Kyiv, Ukraine overestimates the power of the pro-Russian lobby. He noted that these forces represent a very small part of the political spectrum – mainly the extreme right and extreme left. The main reason for their success is well-built communication, given that the French society knows relatively little about the real situation in Russia. The expert believes that it is possible to resist their influence if the communication strategy moves from defense to offense. “Instead of talking about the powerful Russian lobby, say that French companies still operate in Ukraine, some members of the National Assembly take a pro-Ukrainian position, some NGOs support Ukraine,” underlined Olivier Védrine. He added that Ukraine should analyze certain facts more carefully. For example, the notorious French Senate resolution is not only about lifting the sanctions against Russia, but also about recognizing Russia an aggressor and violator of international law, which to some extent changes the overall emphasis.
According to the experts, the main task of diplomats in the coming years is to deepen the dialogue between the two countries. “The main challenge for Kyiv and Paris for the next years is to make a straight path that will be unaffected by the Kremlin,” stressed Leonid Litra. “We should develop cooperation and, above all, strengthen mutual trust lest our dialogue be hostage to other factors, including third parties,” noted Vasyl Khymynets.
Ukraine, in turn, must demonstrate real reforms as confirmation of its European choice. “If you want to win Europeans’ favor, you must successfully implement reforms and, first of all, fight down corruption,” emphasized Olivier Védrine. Improving the business climate would encourage French investors to enter the Ukrainian market more actively. “Though business environment has deteriorated over the recent years, none of French companies has left Ukraine despite the significant losses. I underline this fact because it proves that French entrepreneurs believe in the future of Ukraine,” emphasized Jean-Jacques Hervé, Counsellor to the Board for Agriculture at Crédit Agricole Bank, Ukraine. He stressed that French investors expect “greater stability and confidence.” For this, he said, it is important to ensure the supremacy of law and efficiency of the judicial system. Investors will be attracted, if amendments on the payment of dividends are made in the legislation, and if visa procedures for businessmen operating in Ukraine are simplified.
Isabelle Dumont noted that French decentralization experience would be very valuable for Ukraine, as France also conducted this reform in very similar conditions. Thus, decentralization may be one of the priority areas of cooperation along with energy efficiency. France is also interested to continue cooperation in environmental projects. Mrs. Ambassador reminded that France ranks second in providing assistance to Ukraine for liquidation of consequences of the Chornobyl disaster, and this cooperation continues today. “The shelter that will be installed over the reactor in the end of this year is constructed as per a French project and involves considerable human and financial resources of France.”
According to Vasyl Khymynets, Ukraine and France should expand regional cooperation. Currently, there are such partnerships between Lille and Kharkiv, Marseille and Odesa. It is planned to establish cooperation between Kyiv and Paris.
French and Ukrainian experts unanimously agreed on the need to extend not only formal diplomatic contacts, but also “public diplomacy” – through dialogue of civil society, expert environment, cultural projects, festivals and educational programs.
Leonid Litra noted that our countries should also develop cooperation in the field of security, in particular through the symbolic participation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in various missions outside Europe, for example, as Georgia does.