One of Russian propaganda’s favorite mantras is that Ukraine will always lose out by getting closer to the European Union. This theme is propagated often and in various incarnations. One of the most recent versions of this story was a conference speech delivered by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma that Russian media quoted completely out of context.
Catastrophic consequences of European integration for the Ukrainian economy, Kyiv hostile towards the EU, the European Union is bringing Ukraine to its knees and not providing any assistance – such were the general tones of Russian media coverage of Leonid Kuchma’s address at a conference entitled “The dawn of Europe: historic legitimacy of civilizational progress” held in the Ukrainian capital.
The usual Russian suspects ran twisted versions of Leonid Kuchma’s address with NTV, REN TV, TASS, Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda, Life.ru, Vesti, Sputnik, Lenta.ru leading the charge.
Russian media chose Kuchma’s most emotional pronouncements about the European Union but completely ignored his views as to why Ukraine and Russia can’t come to an agreement about the war in the Donbas. They also paid no attention when Kuchma pointed out that there are huge amounts of heavy weaponry in the eastern Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian separatists which are regularly reinforced by additional armaments sent from Russia under the guise of humanitarian aid.
“Europe is bringing Ukraine to its knees” – the phrase Russian media chose to focus on, which became a blaring headline in scores of fake stories, was taken completely out of context. Kuchma alluded that Europe was dictating terms to Ukraine without offering any concrete assistance in return. In particular, the former president claimed that Europe was forcing Ukraine to export lumber, to the detriment of the country’s environment.
The European Union meanwhile assures Ukrainians that their policies and European integration are by no means causing the decimation of Ukraine’s forests, quite the contrary; EU policies are helping Ukraine to combat deforestation and develop lumber sustainably. The EU office in Ukraine points out that despite a national moratorium on the export of lumber, illegal logging and timber contraband continue to happen.
President Kuchma’s speech was indeed doom and gloom for Ukraine’s economy, the only industries remaining, according to Kuchma, are metallurgy, chemicals and agriculture. His claims however, are somewhat far from the truth.
While the country has suffered economically because of the annexation of Crimea and the war in its eastern region, according to the World Bank and Ukraine’s National Bank the country’s GDP is growing slowly, inflation is down and investment is returning to the country. The World Bank’s Ukraine country diagnostic considers that Ukraine’s “economy has stabilized, but addressing longstanding structural bottlenecks on multiple fronts will be critical to advance development prospects and deliver tangible benefits for the population”.
According to Ukraine’s Ministry for Economic Development, the country’s exports are growing, particularly to the EU. Compared to 2015 2016 exports of grain, steel, furniture and food to the European Union grew by nearly 4%..