EU-Russia summit in the shadows of Kiev’s fumes

From left to right: José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. EU-Russia Summit of 04/06/2013. (EC Audiovisual Services).

From left to right: José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. EU-Russia Summit of 04/06/2013. (EC Audiovisual Services).

In the shadows of fume of the protest fires in Kiev’s Independence Square, the 32nd EU-Russia summit is expected to take place in Brussels this Tuesday. It will end with a working lunch, without an official dinner being held. The EU side dropped it as an indication of deep concern about Moscow’s role in Ukraine. The ado of the on-going clashes between the pro-EU Ukrainians with the police forces will be heard loud and clear all along the discussions.

The EU will be represented by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and by José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs will also take part. Russia will be represented by the President of the Russia, Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In the press conference after the lunch, the Russian President will face the western media, asking embarrassing questions about Moscow’s position on the Ukrainian stalemate. The brutal suppression of protests by the Yanukovych government will be omnipresent. This morning the Ukrainian President said that, “If we do not succeed (to supress the protest), we will use all legal methods provided for by law.” Everybody knows what ‘legal’ methods he means. A lot of questions will be addressed to Putin about that.

EU losing the first round

Ahead of the meeting Van Rompuy commented as follows, “We have also had however a number of differences which need to be discussed and clarified…we must focus on our common neighbourhood, regional integration processes, trade questions and international commitments”. The reference about Ukraine is more than clear. What is going on in Kiev and probably an in-depth discussion over how the Ukrainian dead-end can be resolved is to dominate the meeting.

The position of the Russian side though has been clarified by what Putin said about the clashes during this week. Moscow feels that it has won the game. The Russian President left to be understood that the protests are fomented and probably materially backed by the West. Consequently they do not represent the hearts and minds of the entire Ukrainian population. This line of thinking has been adopted by Yanukovych, who accuses a small number of activists for steering up the entire protest movement. However the Kiev authorities are unable to stage pro-government rallies as they did last December, when everything started.

In any case the Russian win is realised over Ukraine’s ruins. This is not the end though. Protests are spreading to other cities, while the pro-EU movement ‘holds’ the centre of the capital. A lot hinges on the ways and means that the government is going to use in order to regain the capital city. Undeniably there are parts of the Ukrainian population with traditional affiliations to Moscow, instead of Brussels, especially in the three eastern provinces of the country. The question is if those citizens will approve of the excessive violence used by the government against the protests. On top of that it’s also questionable if the eastwards looking Ukrainians believe that Moscow will be a better help for them than the West.

Yanukovych steps back

President Yanukovych took a conciliative step today. He said “I will sign a decree to reshuffle the government in order to find the best possible professional government team”. The dismissal of prime minister’s Azarov government has been a demand of the opposition parties for some weeks now. It remains to be seen how deep and conciliative the government reshuffle will be.

This prospect may probably ease the tensions also in the Brussels meeting, but only temporarily. Independent observers invariably estimate that the present schism in Ukraine’s national identity between east and west will not be easily repaired, if at all.

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