Sunday

11th Apr 2021

EU-Ukraine relations uncertain despite new treaty

The EU and Ukraine have agreed the text of a new bilateral treaty. But EU leaders warned it will not be worth the paper it is written on unless Ukraine holds normal elections next year.

The two sides announced they have agreed the final wording on a free trade and political association treaty at a summit in Kiev on Tuesday (19 December).

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  • A chilly summit - Yanukovych (c) pictured with Barroso (r) and Van Rompuy (l) (Photo: president.gov.ua)

The breakthrough came after Ukrainian negotiators two days earlier dropped demands for the EU to insert a promise Ukraine can one day join the Union. A senior Ukrainian diplomat paraphrased the final text as saying the EU "recognises Ukraine's European choice and aspirations and confirms its European identity."

The treaty - billed by Polish and Ukrainian diplomats as a geopolitical shift fixing Ukraine in the EU orbit instead of the Russian one - will be initialled by both sides in early February in a formal act of completion.

If all goes well it could be ratified by the 27 EU countries and Ukraine by 2013 or 2014.

But with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's main political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko and many of her allies recently jailed as Yanukovych seeks to consolidate his hold on power, the summit was a prickly one despite the good news.

When Yanukovych wished delegates happy St Nicholas day, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso responded: "Let me also wish you and wish all Ukrainians a happy Christmas and - as much as possible - a happy 2012."

His remark alluded to EU concerns that parliamentary elections in October next year will be marked by further attacks on democratic values.

For his part, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy indicated ratification will be long delayed if Tymoshenko stays behind bars.

"The parliamentary election next year will be a litmus test. The conduct of these elections will have to meet the conditions of [international monitors] the OSCE, including a level playing field for all candidates. It is absolutely indispensible they can all exercise their rights [to run as candidates]," he said.

"They will never take the chance of letting her [Tymoshenko] out before the vote, so the OSCE will be forced to say the elections are not free and fair and the EU will have to react," one EU diplomat told this website. He named 2016 as a more realistic date for ratification.

Yanukovych at the summit said "membership in the European Community remains our strong objective." But he gave no sign of clemency toward his adversary.

Referring to a 2009 gas deal which Tymoshenko signed with Russia, he said it has put Ukraine's gas firm Nafotgaz $6 billion in debt in a situation which threatens "the destruction of this country."

With Russia recently urging Ukraine to withdraw from the European Energy Community in return for cheaper gas - a key factor for Yanukovych's party in the 2012 election campaign - the President indicated he is sympathetic to Moscow's demands.

Barroso and Van Rompuy at the summit both praised the energy community as a big achievement in terms of Ukraine's EU integration.

But Yanukovych - who will visit the Russian capital on Wednesday - said the community's members have "violated" its rules by letting Serbia build new gas storage tanks which threaten Ukrainian business interests.

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