EU and Ukraine end cold spell in relations

25.02.13 @ 18:06

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The EU has ended a mini-Cold-War with Ukraine by welcoming back its President in Brussels.

  • Yanukovych: 'EU integration is the most important direction for Ukraine to move toward' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The meeting with Viktor Yanukovych on Monday (25 February) comes after EU leaders last year boycotted a regional summit in Yalta, Ukraine and Euro 2012 football games.

They also told his Prime Minister to "stay home" instead of going to the EU capital and they did not hold an EU-Ukraine summit for the first time in 15 years.

The cold spell came after Yanukovych jailed political opponents, such as former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, and bullied competing parties in parliamentary elections.

He continues to rule with a heavy hand.

But the EU is keen to sign a political association and free trade agreement with Ukraine in November in order to stop it from drifting into Russia's sphere of influence.

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday indicated it will be difficult to sign the text if Tymoshenko remains behind bars.

Van Rompuy said there must be "concrete progress" on the problem of "selective justice" in Ukraine "at the latest by May."

Barroso said there must be "tangible and substantial action."

But on the positive side, the EU agreed to loan Ukraine €610 million to help balance its books.

"You are not walking alone," Barroso said, addressing Ukrainian people in general.

For his part, Yanukovych said there is no question of joining a Russia-led Customs Union instead of the EU.

"Ukrainian law says that EU integration is the most important direction for Ukraine to move toward and this cannot be changed today," he noted.

The summit prompted a small protest in Brussels involving two opposition MPs from Tymoshenko's party.

It prompted a much bigger anti-Yanukovych demonstration in central Kiev involving several thousand people.

Speaking to EUobserver from the Ukrainian capital on Monday, Valeriy Chaly, the deputy head of the Razumkov think tank, said EU officials were right to meet with Yanukovych in order to "directly" tell Ukraine's most powerful man what they want.

He noted that Yanukovych's top priority is to stay in power, not to build better EU-Ukraine relations, however.

"Being realistic, I see just a 20 percent chance of singing the association agreement," he said.

He is not alone in his pessimism.

When asked at an event in the European Parliament last week if the EU should sign the pact if Tymoshenko remains in prison, Poland's foreign minister Radek Sikorski, said: "We want both: Ukraine to sign the agreement and an improvement in its judicial procedures."

But Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt was more gloomy.

"So far, the signs of progress in Ukraine are fairly limited, to put it mildly," he noted.