A truly European Ukraine needs both victory and stronger rule of law – POLITICO | Popgen Tech
Aleksander Kwaśniewski is the former president of Poland.
Ukraine’s future as a true European country is ensured by a massive national effort.
Although the free world stands in awe of Ukrainians’ sacrifice and success – both of its soldiers and civilians – the fight for a free and democratic Ukraine is not only waged on the battlefield. It is also being built by diplomats, business leaders, experts and NGOs, working together to create a successful democratic, free market country ready for membership of the European Union.
When my own home country of Poland joined the EU in 2004—a process I was honored to oversee—such economic and legal adjustment was a necessary step away from Soviet authoritarianism and oppression. Ukraine will now embark on a similar journey and join a European family, enabling its people to peacefully realize their true potential.
While the EU would not be what it is today without its built-in diversity, there are also consistent shared rules, processes and behaviors that we must all follow – and Ukraine will also need to prepare for these changes.
This matters because Ukraine is not fighting for just a little freedom, a few rights, occasional democracy or limited rule of law – its fight is for a future as a true equal with other EU member states.
Preparing a country at war for a time when its citizens can study, live, shop, work and retire peacefully across Europe will not be an easy task. Reforming Ukraine’s economy and business culture to embrace the free movement of goods, services, capital and people will also not just be a technical, legal and bureaucratic process – it will be an important part of the country’s ongoing struggle for freedom.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is right when he tells the world that Russia’s war is not only with Ukraine – it is with democracy and Western values. And when the country joins the EU, it must show that it has already embraced those values. It will be essential to step out of Russia’s shadow, with its oligarchs and kleptocratic predators.
For example, although warfare may in principle justify a process of temporary nationalization of private assets such as factories or communication networks, it should be a method of last resort, when all other legal means prove ineffective. This is because such a step is the strongest intervention the state can make in a free market. Thus, if seizure of assets is considered, it should always be subject to strict and transparent procedure, with clear reasoning and a credible strategy to return said assets to their rightful owners once hostilities have ceased.
Recent reports of companies coming under state control through opaque procedures may therefore raise some alarms among Ukraine’s international friends, investors and EU decision-makers. There are fears that such actions could encourage an abuse of power aimed at redistributing attractive and financially lucrative private properties.
This is not an idle concern, as Ukraine has a negative record when it comes to forced takeovers of private companies, which have not always benefited the general public. As such, the new Ukraine, embracing its laws and principles, has a special responsibility to prevent any doubt about forced asset seizures.
The war has now reached a point where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of conquering Ukraine may soon end, with his forces finally driven out. But this war is not simply about territory. What matters to Russia is that Ukraine never becomes a successful democratic, free market country.
Russia cannot allow Ukrainians to make their own choices because that would undermine Moscow’s hold on its own people and its satellites, especially Belarus. It would also be a potentially fatal blow to the Kremlin’s “strongman” narrative that the only practical way forward is to overcome “weak-willed liberals” and replace “messy democracy” with the “Moscow model.”
Robbed of his chance to crush Ukraine militarily, Putin’s next best option may well then be to go back to his playbook of disinformation and disruption. He would welcome a return to the kind of economic corruption and political infighting that he understands so well, and that his clandestine agents are experts at creating.
This means that while the negotiations on Ukraine’s EU accession may not be physical battles, they will still be critically important in this struggle. The rule of law, preserving free markets and rolling back corruption will be essential for all Ukrainians to become free European citizens.
Military success gave Ukraine the chance to renew itself. And when the recent liberation of Kherson saw the European flag raised alongside the yellow and blue of a free Ukraine, it created a perfect symbol of where the country is today – on the threshold of a true partnership with the EU and on the precipice of being free from Russia, with all its violence, cynicism and corruption.
The democratic capitals of Europe are ready to count Kiev among their number, and Ukraine must seize this opportunity for economic reform and progress.