Ukraine takes EU money and runs to sign with Russia

Štefan Füle, Member of the European Commission in charge of Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, received in Brussels Sergiy Arbuzov, Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister, on 17 October 2013. Until the very last moment the Ukrainians nurtured EU’s ambition for an Association Agreement with this important country. Then Kyiv said it signs with Moscow. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Štefan Füle, Member of the European Commission in charge of Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, received in Brussels Sergiy Arbuzov, Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister, on 17 October 2013. Until the very last moment the Ukrainians nurtured EU’s ambition for an Association Agreement with their key country. Then Kyiv said it signs with Moscow. (EC Audiovisual Services).

Yesterday, Ukraine threw away in the dustbin EU’s ultimatum issued last Monday by the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius during the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. Lithuania currently holds the EU Council Presidency, representing the entire Union. Linkevičius said that “Ten days remain for Ukraine and the European Union to take crucial decisions to sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius Summit”. The Agreement could lead to full membership after say ten years. True, the EU’s offer to Kyiv was not a small thing. Let’s follow the facts.

The European Sting almost predicted the Ukrainian rejection of EU’s offer. Last Tuesday Suzan A. Kane wrote, “The Eastern Partnership, EU’s major and expensive initiative to extend its influence up to the southern borders of Russia is faltering dangerously. Ukraine doesn’t seem ready to sign the Partnership after Armenia recently rejected it…The European Union has been very actively preparing the Vilnius Summit scheduled for 28-29 November, where Ukraine is expected to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. Ten days ahead of this Vilnius Summit and Ukraine doesn’t appear ready to fulfil the prerequisites set by Brussels, to a great embarrassment of the EU dignitaries”.

With EU’s money

During the last two years, the European Union has spent time and a lot of money to bring Ukraine closer to the West, away from Moscow. Only last October the European Investment Bank (EIB) supported the extension of the existing metro line of Dnipropetrovsk, a city of more than one million people in south Ukraine. The EIB accorded a loan of €152 million over 25 years, with favourable terms. The contract was signed on 25 October in Luxembourg by the Ukrainian Finance Minister Yurij Kolobov and EIB Vice President László Baranyay. The EU is, or rather was, even preparing visa liberalisation for Ukrainian nationals. In any case, Brussels has offered a lot of goodies to the Ukrainian President  Eastern Partnership and of course had promised a lot more after the signing of the Association Agreement.

However, all along, Moscow didn’t stay idle. The Russian President had personally threatened Kyiv not to sign this Agreement with the European Union. Obviously Russia considers Ukraine, as belonging, in a ‘historic way’, to its own sphere of influence. This country, with its 50 million people, was the second largest Soviet Republic of USSR. Before that, it belonged to the Imperial Russia. Almost half of the population speaks Russian.

Ukraine was the major ‘item’ in EU’s eastern neighbourhood policy. According to this writer, “The Eastern Partnership, EU’s major and expensive initiative to extend its influence up to the southern borders of Russia is faltering dangerously. Ukraine doesn’t seem ready to sign the Partnership, after Armenia recently rejected it”. It remains a mystery how the Brussels bureaucracy was caught literally with the pants down.

A Kyiv’s game

Until the very last moment the EU commissioner, in charge of relations with Kiev, Stefan Füle, a German, seemingly believed that Yanukovich would sign the deal. Füle was in Kyiv for three days from 18 to 20 November. On his return to Brussels on Wednesday he said “The EU’s commitment to bring EU Ukraine relations to a new quality, opening up new opportunities for the Ukrainian people, is firm. The door for such a qualitative step forward is open and we look forward to the government’s implementation of its decision of 18 September 2013 to sign the association agreement in Vilnius on 29 November 2013”. Other sources say that Yanukovich told Füle he is not signing on Tuesday 19 November.

In any case, what the Ukrainian President said, after he turned downed EU’s proposals, indicates that he had planned this from the very beginning. His target was to get as much money as he could from the West, and then turn again towards Putin’s Russia, as if nothing had happened in the between.

Yanukovich justified this full U-turn in his foreign policy, by saying that this Association Agreement with the EU would cost to his country €500 billion in lost trade with Russia over the next few years. But the relevant estimates of redirecting Ukraine’s trade towards the West instead of Russia were available from the very beginning when the discussions with the EU started two years ago.

In any case the EU rather overestimated its control over the entire case. The insistence of Brussels that Ukraine freed former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko from jail and let her travel to Germany, was rather the extra Western demand that turn Yanukovich’s scale towards Moscow. Tymoshenko could be most the important contestant of the 2015 presidential election. She was sentenced in 2011 to seven years imprisonment for embezzlement. The EU believes that Ukraine’s judicial system is politically influenced. Tymoshenko is a staunch friend of the West.

Probably Vilnius overdid it?

Another point that the EU may have misjudged, is the fact that Brussels let the Lithuanian Foreign Minister blatantly tell the Ukrainian President, what he had to do ‘within ten days’. Lithuania is such a small country in comparison to Ukraine, and the Vilnius government has on many occasions provoked Russia’s wrath. Even yesterday Linkevičius while announcing the bad news was rather extra harsh with the Ukrainian President.

Yesterday Kyiv not only briefly threw in the dustbin EU’s ultimatum, but Prime Minister Mykola Azarov right after announcing the suspension of the talks with the EU, he said Ukraine is resuming the procedure to join the Moscow-led customs union and the former Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States. Not to forget that this summer Armenia, instead of promoting its ties with the EU, suddenly changed course and signed a membership agreement with the Eurasian Union (EAU).

In any case the whole affair is an unforgivable failure of EU’s eastern opening. Even if Moldova and Georgia sign the EU papers, the fact remains that Brussels lost a decisive battle in the Dnieper River plains.

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