25th Oct 2016

Ukraine and EU ridicule Russian threats

  • Grybauskaite (c) and Yanukovych (r) at the Yalta event (Photo: eu2013.lt)

EU personalities and Ukrainian politicians have made light of Russia's latest threat against Ukraine if it signs an EU pact.

Speaking at a conference in Yalta, Ukraine, at the weekend, Sergei Glazyev, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Russia will ruin Ukraine if it takes the EU path.

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Amid jeers from some delegates in the audience, he said Russia will impose new trade tariffs on Ukrainian goods, worth up to €35 billion, leading it to default on its sovereign debt.

"We don't want to use any kind of blackmail … But legally, signing this agreement about association with the EU, the Ukrainian government violates the treaty on strategic partnership and friendship with Russia," he noted.

"Who will pay for Ukraine's default, which will become inevitable? … Would Europe take responsibility for that?" he added.

Russia in recent months already banned Ukraine's top chocolate brand, Roshen, on phytosanitary grounds.

It also imposed special customs checks on Ukrainian trucks in August causing a temporary standstill in trade.

The moves come ahead of an EU summit with former Soviet countries in Vilnius in November at which the EU and Ukraine aim to sign a political association and free trade deal.

For her part, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told the Yalta meeting: "Ukraine is too big, too strong and too important to allow others to decide its fate. It is the decision of Ukraine to be with the European Union or not."

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski described Russia's tactics as a "19th-century mode of operating towards neighbours."

He added in a quip on the Roshen ban that if Ukraine signs the EU pact: "I undertake to eat more Ukrainian chocolate."

Ukrainian trade minister, Petro Poroshenko, who owns the Roshen firm, noted that Russia's threats are counterproductive.

"For the first time in our history more than 50 percent of people support European integration, and less than 30 percent of people support closer ties with Russia … Thank you very much for that Mr Glazyev," he said.

Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine's richest businessmen, told Reuters that Russia's tactics are "totally stupid."

Moscow aside, the EU delegates also warned that unless Ukraine frees jailed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko - who has spent two years in custody after a show trial - the EU-Ukraine pact could fall by the wayside.

"The request from the European Union on Tymoshenko's case is still on the table and, without a solution, I do not see a possibility for the signature," Grybauskaite said.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former Polish president who has, as part of an EU parliament mission, over the past year tried to negotiate Tymoshenko's release, added: "She is ill. She needs surgery. She needs therapy and rehabilitation."

But Yanukovych himself refused to budge.

He said: "We are trying, and are seeking even today, to find a way of approaching this very difficult question relating to Tymoshenko … At the moment, we have not yet said either 'Yes' or 'No' [to her release]."

He hinted that she might go free if she admits to being guilty of abuse of office when she was PM and asks for a pardon.

"Only the court can give an answer or [there can be] a voluntary decision by Tymoshenko," the Ukrainian leader noted.

Speaking to EUobsever in Kiev after the Yalta event, EU diplomats said Ukraine has fulfilled almost all other conditions for signing the EU pact in November.

The main EU proposal on Tymoshenko is to send her for medical treatment in Germany at the time of the Vilnius meeting.

But one EU contact noted that unless Ukraine also drops the legal cases against her: "She will never accept it. It would mean she could never go back to Ukraine because she would risk spending years in prison. It would be the end of her political career."

Another EU source said even if the deal is signed in Vilnius, there is a danger Ukraine will not implement it because its oligarchs are making a fortune out of the status quo, with Ukraine half-way between the EU and Russia.

Tymoshenko herself in an emotional appeal sent to Yalta urged the EU to go ahead with the pact.

She also warned, however: "Authoritarianism, disrespect for the rule of law and human rights, and poor economic governance will not disappear by default only because the agreement is signed."

If it is signed, it could also take a long time for each of the 28 EU countries to ratify the treaty.

The European Commission has prepared a legal proposal to give parts of the EU pact "provisional application" right away.

But some member states, such as the UK, are against the move because it would create a precedent in which the commission implements pacts before EU national governments have had their say.

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