Anticipating War: B- for Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Scores 2021

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We are happy to present our annual comprehensive analysis of Ukraine’s foreign policy. The work on this year’s research was special for the Ukrainian Prism team due to the well-known tragic reasons. We spent a long time deliberating whether publishing this research was reasonable after Russia’s full-scale aggression profoundly transformed the tools and approaches to diplomacy in wartime and the tasks it faces. 

Download the research: 

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Eventually, together with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Prism decided that we have to publish the assessment of Ukraine’s foreign policy in 2021. Firstly, this is a cycle project that has gone through a long path of improving the form and substance of the information it presents. We have collected and structured the material based on our unique research methodology for seven years. This allows us to draw conclusions on progress in the foreign policy work of the Ukrainian government institutions. 

Secondly, 2021 is valuable for research as a year of intense consolidation of Ukraine’s efforts to counter Russia’s aggression both domestically and internationally. It is likely that Kyiv’s intensified foreign policy efforts served as a signal of its serious and irrevocable intent to de-occupy the territory of the Donbas and Crimea for the Kremlin. The total “B -” score for Ukraine’s foreign policy in 2021 reflects highly proactive efforts of Ukrainian diplomacy in pursuing its foreign policy priorities. 

The team of the Ukrainian Prism constantly updates the methodology of this research and revises the areas covered by the analysis. In 2021, we added the analysis of Ukraine’s relations with Austria and Azerbaijan while leaving the fight against the COVID19 pandemic behind. 

Another element of the 2021 analysis is that it does not have recommendations. We had prepared recommendations for each geographic and functional section. However, the active phase of Russia’s war against Ukraine made most of them irrelevant and untimely. Wartime diplomacy calls for different solutions and formats for designing these solutions. We believe that we will return area-specific expert recommendations on improving foreign policy effectiveness after the war. 

We hope this comprehensive assessment of Ukraine’s foreign policy in 2021 will serve your research and academic needs and contribute to the fight against the aggressor on the information front. 

The Scorecards 2021 full version is available only in Ukrainian. The English language publication consists of a summary and scorecards.  

We believe in our victory over the enemy. Glory to Ukraine! 

Hennadiy Maksak,
Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”





Ukraine was forced to step up its foreign policy efforts in early 2021, given the serious military threat and the fact that the Kremlin completely ignored the process of negotiations both in the Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group. This led to a new level of security challenges that had to be dealt with. Diplomacy has been one of the ways to do this. At the same time, any illusions about Russia’s willingness to negotiate were lost. As a result, Ukraine launched new international initiatives to increase pressure on Russia’s leadership, implement the de-occupation policy of the Ukrainian territory, and filled these initiatives with substance. Ukraine’s foreign policy priorities in 2021 included building a coalition to counter Russia’s aggression, integration with the EU and NATO, and expansion into the new markets of Asia.

  • Ukraine’s foreign policy efforts in the UK, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Turkey, the US, the EU and NATO integration and building an international coalition to counter Russia’s aggression got the highest scores in 2021. 
  • The lowest scoring in 2021 was foreign policy on Iran, V4, Western Balkans, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and international security. 
  • Political interest / engagement 4-

    The annual Address of the President to the Verkhovna Rada and the Analytical Report that comes with it remained the key indicators of interest in different areas of Ukraine’s foreign policy. In 2021, however, Ukraine made an important step toward shaping its international image: President signed and enacted Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Strategy. This document is key in projecting the foreign policy interests of both President Zelenskyy and his diplomacy strategists at the Office of the President of Ukraine and Ukraine’s MFA. Individual vectors of the President’s foreign policy position were reflected in speeches at the forum Ukraine 30. International Relations in July and in the annual meeting of Ukraine’s ambassadors in December. Other expressers of this position included Ukraine’s Prime Minister D. Shmyhal, Foreign Minister D. Kuleba, Vice Prime Minister O. Stefanishyna, Defence Minister O. Reznikov, Head of the Presidential Office A. Yermak, his deputies I. Zhovkva and A. Sybiha, and Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council O. Danilov. 

    Consolidation of international efforts to counter Russia’s aggression prevailed in all speeches and statements by officials and top politicians represented in the Verkhovna Rada. As a horizontal theme, it was permanently present on the agenda of top-level meetings in bilateral formats and interaction with international organizations. Building the Crimea Platform, an international platform focused on the reoccupation of Crimea, was another cross-institutional priority theme. 

    Other cross-cutting issues of importance in Ukraine’s relations with other states included keeping sanctions against Russia, getting defensive weapons for Ukraine, ensuring Ukraine’s energy security, strengthening trade contacts with various regions and states, and dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    In geographic terms, Ukraine traditionally focused strongly on relations with G7 countries that are of strategic interest to Kyiv. Bipartisan support in the US through 2021 helped intensify strategic partnership with the US and provision of assistance for Ukraine. The last months of 2021 saw more frequent mentions of security and defence cooperation. Security agenda prevailed in Ukraine’s cooperation with the UK and Canada. Germany featured in the discourse of Ukraine’s top politicians in the context of energy security — stopping Nord Stream 2 — economic cooperation and security — the option of weapons supply to Ukraine. Ukraine had a great interest in trade with Italy. Ukrainian authorities paid less attention to France in their official statements as the Normandy Four format was almost frozen. Japan has its niche in issues of humanitarian and technical cooperation with Ukraine. 

    Ukraine traditionally paid great attention to the EU and NATO integration. Integration with the EU was interpreted from the perspective of efforts to create conditions to revise the Association Agreement and launch a new horizon for the Eastern Partnership. The Euro-Atlantic vector focused on the need to clearly define the timeframe for Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Implementation of EU and NATO membership steps was one of the most controversial themes among the political parties in the Verkhovna Rada. 

    Poland, Turkey, Lithuania, and Romania received high-level political attention in bilateral relations. The key themes in these relations included security and defence, EU integration, trade and economic cooperation. 

    While Ukraine declared top-level interest in the economic potential of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa, political interest in these vectors remained feeble despite more attention for the Gulf countries. 

  • Institutional Cooperation 4-

    2021 saw some successful domestic coordination of efforts for the international arena. First and foremost, government institutions cooperated and coordinated proactively to organize and host the Inaugural Summit of the Crimea Platform in August. Thanks to the establishment of the organizing committee with representatives of the Office of the President, MFA, Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and a number of other agencies in spring 2021, the event was well organized, resulting in a representative international platform with 45 foreign and international delegations. The government proactively engaged the expert community in launching the Crimea Platform. This strengthened the international legitimacy of the Crimea Platform as a tool for de-occupying Crimea and Sevastopol. The operational structure of the Crimea Platform includes government, parliamentary, and expert levels.

    Intense cross-institutional cooperation marked the preparation of the Ukrainian President’s visit to the US in September. Its intense agenda and complexity of the agreements signed during the visit reflect strong coordination among the Cabinet of Ministers, Office of the President, security agencies, and government professionals and agencies from various thematic domains. 

    2021 saw close cooperation of the National Security and Defence Council, Office of the President, VRU, MFA, MoD, General Staff and security services in countering Russia’s aggression. The potential for cooperation among the ministries in the government increased. Even if well-coordinated domestically, however, Ukraine’s track did not always lead to a proactive bilateral dialogue on the international level.

    The selection of the head of the Government Office for Coordination of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration in September was another positive move. This office had been vacant for a long time. It is important to organize government work in cooperation with the EU and NATO. Still, coordination is sometimes lacking between the Government and the Verkhovna Rada on passing priority laws and harmonizing legislative initiatives with Ukraine’s commitments to the EU and NATO. 

    Overall coordination of efforts within the President’s team is satisfactory. For example, representatives of the government and Sluha Narodu members of parliament were involved in the annual meeting of ambassadors to strengthen their synergy. 

    Government institutions traditionally have good cooperation in economic diplomacy and promoting Ukraine’s investment potential. The MFA and Ministry of Economy are behind the wheel here. On the positive side, a special envoy for promoting exports and attracting investment was appointed at the MFA. On the negative side, the launch of the Export Credit Agency has been delayed for several years now. 

    Good cooperation was demonstrated in public diplomacy, and a number of state institutions were created to support Ukrainian initiatives. Conflicts in the election of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation Chair soured the process to some extent. There were difficulties in cooperation with Canada, including selecting the delegation for FTA expansion talks. 

    The slow appointment of Ukrainian ambassadors remains a problem. Some embassies are still without ambassadors. 

  • Strategic vision 4+

    Ukraine made a serious breakthrough in the strategic vision of its foreign policy in the period covered by this report.

    The key accomplishment was preparing and approving the Foreign Policy Strategy in September 2021. For the first time, a document of this scale formulated a clear and systemic vision of foreign policy priorities, objectives, and tasks. The strategy of 254 points offers answers to Ukraine’s mid-term priorities and highlights the goalposts set by Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s diplomacy team for his tenure as President. 

    Different strategic documents reinforced the security sector where the foreign policy segment is essential. In March, Ukraine passed the Strategy of De-occupation and Reintegration of the Occupied Territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. It says that Ukraine needs to engage international support and use the tools offered by international organizations. 

    Ukraine’s Military Strategy was also updated in March. It calls for using all of Ukraine’s potential, including diplomacy, to counter Russia’s aggression. Furthermore, the Strategy focuses on Euro-Atlantic integration. In May, the 2021 Annual National Plan under the auspices of the NATO-Ukraine Commission was approved. Importantly, in addition to describing reforms and strategic goals, the ANP focuses on strengthening Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner, a status Ukraine received in 2020. In August, the Strategy of Communication on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic Integration Until 2025 was added to this package. 

    A new strategic framework was set for the priorities of economic diplomacy. The Cabinet of Ministers approved the National Economic Strategy until 2030 and Ukraine’s Economic Security Strategy until 2025. Export strategy and sectoral strategies for developing promising sectors of the economy were redrafted when this report was prepared. 

    Since the MFA was in charge of drafting Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Strategy, it did additional work designing strategies for individual geographic and thematic sectors. These include Public Diplomacy Strategy, MFA’s Communication Strategy and Africa Strategy — all approved by the MFA. 

    Jointly with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy and the State Agency for Tourism Development, the MFA presented a new Communication Strategy to promote Ukraine as a tourist destination. 

    Despite these positive dynamics in the framework set, a cornerstone question is how the agencies in charge will implement it and whether they will be supported with the necessary funding. 

    While working with the Ukrainian diaspora is a priority for Ukraine, there are some delays in preparing the new state program for it. In 2020, the State Program for Cooperation with Ukrainians Abroad expired. The draft Concept of the State Targeted Program for Cooperation with Ukrainians Abroad was put up for public discussion in early 2021, but it was not finalized by the end of 2021.

    Interaction with the US has a special place in bilateral relations. Ukraine strengthened the strategic framework in relations with the US during the visit of President Zelenskyy to the US in August-September. The updated Charter on Strategic Partnership and the new Framework Defence Agreement outline vectors and objectives of bilateral relations. 

    After a serious delay, from January 1, 2021, Ukraine’s FTA with Israel came into effect after the two countries signed it in 2019. Unfortunately, despite dynamic diplomacy, the long-awaited FTA with Turkey was not signed in 2021. 

    Generally, the framework nature of bilateral strategic agreements with other countries is often not complemented by mid or short-term action plans or roadmaps. 

  • Activities and Results 4+

    New security threats from Russia that re-emerged in 2021 reactivated diplomatic contacts to consolidate support in countering Russia’s aggression. Preparation of the Crimea Platform inaugural summit was a special topic in the spotlight of Ukrainian diplomacy. Since the fall of 2021, the threat of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine has been an additional point of international communication: information about it has constantly been on the agenda thanks to the work of Ukraine’s partners’ intelligence agencies. In this environment, Kyiv had to apply deterrence mechanisms in diplomacy by putting political pressure on Russia and joining the sanctions designed by the EU and Western partners. Another track consisted of the talks about possible weapon supplies to Ukraine.

    As mentioned above, maintaining stable high-level contacts with G7 countries was important for Ukraine. The visits of Ukraine’s President to France in April, Germany in June, the UN General Assembly in September, the Glasgow Climate Change Conference in November, and the Eastern Partnership Summit in December were essential elements.

    The visit of US Secretary of State Blinken to Kyiv in April was important. Still, the September visit of Ukraine’s President to the US and the signing of strategic agreements — on the strategic foundation of defence partnership and updating of the Charter on Strategic Partnership — marked the peak of Ukraine-US relations. 

    The work of Ukraine’s MFA was dynamic at the level of both its leadership and diplomatic missions abroad. Amidst pandemic restrictions, diplomatic missions became the outposts for promoting Ukraine’s interests abroad, using online communication tools to the maximum. Work with foreign delegations led by foreign ministers, parliament speakers, and others became consistent, especially as Ukraine was preparing for the Crimea Platform summit. Most top-level representatives of foreign countries had a chance to visit the administrative line with the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or the contact line in the Donbas. 

    Verkhovna Rada MPs worked proactively in interparliamentary assemblies of international organizations. By contrast, the work of interparliamentary groups of friendship mostly stalled. 

    In addition to the strategically important G7 countries, relations were vital with Turkey, Poland, and the Baltic States as contacts with them intensified at the top level. Extensive intergovernmental and interagency cooperation took place. A significant accomplishment was filling the Lublin Triangle — Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania — with political, economic, and security substance. Establishing contacts between presidents was an important stage in Ukraine-Poland relations. 

    Ukraine continued to use international organizations as platforms for shaping pro-Ukrainian decisions. With the efforts of Ukrainian diplomats, the UN General Assembly passed two resolutions — the updated version of the resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine (17.12), and the resolution on the Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov (9.12).

    Building a solid position to consolidate international efforts for countering the aggression relies on cooperation with NATO, among other things. Apart from the traditional joint military exercises between Ukraine and NATO member-states and the implementation of ANP priorities and goals, the situation in Ukraine was constantly on the agenda of NATO’s political and military leadership in 2021. Even if Hungary was blocking political Ukraine-NATO cooperation at the top level, Ukraine was getting consolidated support in efforts to restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

    Relations with the EU remained a priority for Ukraine, ranging beyond just implementing the Association Agreement. EU institutions revised their policy in 2021 to strengthen political and economic support for Ukraine amidst growing threats from Russia. Especially positive were the visits of Charles Michel, President of the European Council, to Ukraine. In the economic field, Kyiv launched an ambitious effort to update the trade elements of its Association Agreement with the EU and preparations to sign the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Goods (ACAA), referred to as an “industrial visa-free regime”. Signing the joint aviation space agreement was a serious breakthrough in Ukraine’s relations with the EU. 

    A new horizon of the Eastern Partnership policy was offered at the Eastern Partnership summit, calling for a serious increase in financial and investment programs of support for partner states and a number of targeted initiatives. Kyiv was proactively engaged in the Association Trio format. The three countries’ governments were trying to advocate their vision of development for Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus. Despite some sensitive aspects in Ukraine-Moldova and Ukraine-Georgia relations, the Association Trio demonstrated encouraging performance as a regional diplomatic initiative. 

    Strengthening Ukraine’s economic presence across the world and making it more attractive for investors was high on the agenda of the Ukrainian government. The MFA focused especially on strengthening its capacity to support Ukraine’s trade and economic affairs and helping Ukrainian businesses. Restoring trade cooperation after the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the challenges to be dealt with. 

    The use of public diplomacy instruments intensified in the period covered by this report. Understanding the need to differentiate approaches to foreign audiences in communicating the cultural originality of Ukraine, thus encouraging decision-making in favour of Ukraine, was increasingly on the agenda of both the MFA and other institutions. An interesting approach is to engage country leaders and their spouses in public diplomacy projects. In August, Ukraine hosted the first summit of first ladies and gentlemen initiated by First Lady O. Zelenska. The second International Cultural Diplomacy Forum was held in September with an audience of thousands abroad. As a special state institution for public diplomacy, the Ukrainian Institute continued to expand its network and accomplish its program activities proactively. COVID-19 restrictions forced it to look for new ways of communication and exchange of cultural practices. 

    This ambitious and dynamic diplomatic work did not accomplish all tasks or prevent negative results in some areas. Talks within the Normandy Four or the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk were not unblocked. Russia’s non-constructive posture resulted in the full freezing of the Russia-Ukraine conflict talks. It was evident by the end of 2021 that the blocking of the talks was an intentional position of Russia’s leadership aimed at escalation. 

    Ukraine’s policy of building relations with China was vague and ambiguous. There was some eclecticism in positions on China in Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Strategy and individual practical steps on the bilateral agenda.

    Hostility increased in Ukraine-Belarus relations. Among other things, this was caused by the Kremlin’s control over the actions of the Lukashenko regime. However, Ukraine’s position on Belarus was inconsistent given its attempts to continue bilateral economic cooperation despite opposite ideological views and values.

    Negative trends persisted in Ukraine-Hungary relations, allowing Budapest to continue its destructive actions of shifting bilateral problems to Ukraine’s relations with the EU and NATO. Unfortunately, this approach is seriously damaging to Ukraine’s plans to intensify relations with these international organizations.  

    Despite the strong political will of the leadership to develop Ukraine’s economic presence in the world and to build an attractive investment environment, the underreformed judiciary and poor protection of foreign investors and businesses remain barriers to that ambition.

    Despite active talks and initiatives to liberalize trade relations, 2021 did not see new free trade agreements. Other trade indicators improved in 2021. Compared to 2020, trade grew by almost 30% in 2021. Exports were growing thanks to the favourable environment and high demand for Ukrainian commodities and agricultural goods in the world. Ukraine’s presence grew stronger in the Gulf countries, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa markets. Apart from that, India and Pakistan emerged more clearly on the map of Ukraine’s foreign policy interests. 

    Ukraine’s top ten trade partners in 2021 included China (USD 18.9bn), Poland (USD 10.2bn), Russia (USD 9.5bn), Germany (USD 9.1bn), Turkey (USD 7.4bn), Belarus (USD 6.3bn), Italy (USD 6.1bn), the US (USD 4.9bn), India (USD 3.5bn) and the Netherlands (USD 3.3bn).

    Ukrainian exports increased to Bolivia, Burundi, Madagascar, Eritrea, and Colombia and shrank a little to 30 countries compared to 2020. Ukraine’s trade with important partners increased significantly. The top ten destinations for Ukrainian exports included China, Poland, Turkey, Italy, Russia, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Egypt, and Spain.

    The biggest partners for trade in services in 2021 included the USA (USD 2.7bn), Russia (USD 2.1bn), Switzerland (USD 1.43bn), the UK (USD 1.4bn), and Turkey (USD 1.3bn). The top destinations for Ukraine’s exported services were Russia, the USA, Switzerland, the UK, and Germany.

    The highest scores for accomplishments in foreign policy are for the work with the UK, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the USA, Japan, Baltic States, and the UN.

    The lowest scores for this indicator go to Iran, Russia, and V4.