On the day the Russian organizers of the $51 billion Winter Olympic Games staged the opening ceremony in Sochi, the European Union found the opportunity to talk to Moscow about pigs, European pigs. Yesterday, Friday 7 February, Health Commissioner Tonio Borg called once more on the Russian Federation to “engage in constructive talks on the issue of the Russian ban on EU pig exports”.
Of course, the European Union couldn’t ignore altogether the opening of the Winter Olympic Games, in the Russian southern city of Sochi, where palm trees can be seen in pictures together with mountain slops covered with artificially produced snow. To this effect, Commissioner Androula Vassiliou responsible for sport issued a seven lines Press Release, to “wish the best of luck to all the competitors, and in particular of course, to all my fellow Europeans”.
No Brussels dignitaries attended the opening ceremony. Vassiliou, the sports Commissioner, issued the above mentioned Press release from her Brussels office. The western leaders were conspicuous with their absence. No Barack Obama, no David Cameron and no Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande came to this hideously expensive Russian fiesta. Ukraine is a very large country to ignore as it lies between the European Union and Russia.
Moscow tests Kiev
As the European Sting writer Suzan A. Kane concluded on 24 January “Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President, is not backing from his position to align his country in a Moscow led economic union, instead of signing an Association Agreement with the EU as the protesters demand for six weeks now. Ukraine was negotiating with the EU this far-reaching Association Agreement for two years, but in the last-minute Yanukovych turned to Moscow and embraced a Eurasia Union, created by the Russian President Vladimir Putin two years ago. From that moment Ukraine is stuck in a risky path, with thousands of protestors gathering every day in the center of capital Kiev”.
Instead, the European Union leaders welcomed in Brussels Ruslana Lyzhychko, Ukrainian singer, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2004 and Leader of the “EuroMaidan” protest movement. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, participated in the 495th plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) with Henri Malosse, President of the EESC. The two presidents and Lyzhychko debated the state of civil society in Ukraine and its expectations vis-à-vis the European Union. Naturally, the conclusion was that the civil society in this country is invariably turned west, looking forward to an alignment with the European Union.
As expected, the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych went to Sochi and of course met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The main issue during that meeting must have been the $15 billion the Russians have promised to Yanukovych but have now withheld the next tranche. The problem is that the Ukrainian President was forced by the protests to make important concessions to the opposition, by offering its leaders the position of Prime Minister. Moscow didn’t like at all this retreat by Yanukovych and withheld the payments from this multi dollar billion agreement. Some weeks ago the Russian state gas monopoly, Gasprom, offered a 35% price reduction on the fuel sold to Ukraine and together with this $15bn, the package was supposed to rescue Ukraine from an imminent bankruptcy.
Nothing came out from the Sochi meeting between the two Presidents and neither side felt inclined to make any comment. Understandably, if there was a positive turn for the Russian side, Putin would have celebrated. As things stand now, Ukraine is still in balance and Europe insists that its offer for an Association Agreement is always on the table. Unfortunately, for Europe, Washington now interferes in force, opting for a joint EU-US offer to Yanukovych with unpredictable results.