Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

Magazine

EU battle for Ukraine ends in truncheons and tear gas

  • Up to half a million Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev, amid police violence (Photo: mac_ivan)

The EU this year lost a battle for Ukraine, but nobody is laughing at its soft power any more.

Ever since the Orange Revolution in 2004, the EU and Russia have been pulling the former Soviet republic in opposite directions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Van Rompuy: 'The most significant development for Europeans' (Photo: mac_ivan)

The EU incentive was a "deep and comprehensive" free trade agreement, or DCFTA, described by the people who drafted it as a "blueprint for future accession."

Russia's tactics included: threatening to block trade; calling in billion dollar gas debts; and calling Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych to Moscow for man-to-man chats.

Ukraine's DCFTA signature was to crown an EU summit in Vilnius on 28 November.

In the run-up to the event, EU countries agreed to do it even if he kept opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in jail. "It's sad, but true. The future of Ukraine is more important than the future of one woman," one EU diplomat said.

The stakes were high.

If Yanukovych took the EU option, it would have marked a geopolitical shift in Europe.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin needs Ukraine to be the cornerstone of his "Eurasian Union" - a project to revive Russian hegemony in the east. He also needs to show pro-democracy movements in Russia there is no hope for reform in the former Soviet domain.

But on 21 November, Yanukovych shocked the EU by saying No.

He went to Vilnius anyway. A video published by the Lithuanian EU presidency showed the stony-faced former lorry driver talking about Russian pressure to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"Nice of you to come. But we expected more," Merkel said.

"[Yanukovych] is from a different civilisation. He is not a partner for Europe," British Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly told his EU colleagues.

The Ukrainian leader shocked Europe once again a few hours later.

At 4am the day after Vilnius, his riot police attacked a group of students at a pro-EU protest in Kiev.

But the biggest shock came next, when up to half a million Ukrainian people joined street protests waving EU flags and calling on Yanukovych to go.

The numbers dwarfed the Orange Revolution itself.

Police clashes got worse and EU diplomats, who expected a mass-scale crackdown, began talking about Ukraine as Belarus II: autocratic; isolated; under Russia's boot.

The story continues to unfold.

Yanukovych in December accepted a $15 billion Russian bailout.

He says he wants to revive the EU deal in the new year despite the Russian accord, but EU leaders do not believe him any more.

Meanwhile, the pro-EU barricades are still there in Kiev.

On Sunday (29 December) a few thousand demonstrators even marched toward Yanukovych's private mansion to voice anger on state corruption.

Their number is dwindling despite fresh scandals, such as the roadside beating of investigative journalist Tetyana Chornovil.

But even if the EU has to wait until Yanukovych leaves power before trying to relaunch the DCFTA process, the events in Ukraine have made their mark.

People have stopped laughing at the EU's soft power and "benchmarks" after the huge rallies in Kiev.

They have also noticed that Ukraine exists amid other priorities in Iran and Syria.

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy told press at an EU summit in December: "The most significant development for Europeans currently is the peaceful popular protest in Ukraine."

A senior EU official told this website: "It goes to show that what we take for granted in Europe - rule of law and political freedom - is a rare and precious thing."

"The reason why Ukrainians want to get closer to Europe is precisely because we did not go for some cheap deal with Yanukovych. Because we have standards and values," he added.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of Europe in Review magazines.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

EU lobby register still riddled with errors

The EU's lobby register remains riddled with errors, with pro-transparency campaigners demanding better data and mandatory rules. The latest findings come amid a raft of proposals by the European Parliament president to weed out corruption in the wake of Qatargate.

Polish backpedal on windfarms put EU funds at risk

Draft legislation in Poland aimed at relaxing some of Europe's strictest laws surrounding onshore wind-turbines has been derailed by a surprise last minute amendment, which could put Poland back on a collision course with the EU.

Opinion

More money, more problems in EU answer to US green subsidies

Industrial energy-intense sectors, outside Germany and France, will not move to the US. They will go bust, as they cannot compete in a fragmented single market. So to save industry in two member states, we will kill the rest?

Polish backpedal on windfarms put EU funds at risk

Draft legislation in Poland aimed at relaxing some of Europe's strictest laws surrounding onshore wind-turbines has been derailed by a surprise last minute amendment, which could put Poland back on a collision course with the EU.

Opinion

More money, more problems in EU answer to US green subsidies

Industrial energy-intense sectors, outside Germany and France, will not move to the US. They will go bust, as they cannot compete in a fragmented single market. So to save industry in two member states, we will kill the rest?

Latest News

  1. Hungary blames conspiracy for EU corruption rating
  2. Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?
  3. EU lobby register still riddled with errors
  4. Polish backpedal on windfarms put EU funds at risk
  5. More money, more problems in EU answer to US green subsidies
  6. Study: EU electricity transition sped into high gear in 2022
  7. Russia and China weaponised pandemic to sow distrust, MEPs hear
  8. Frontex to spend €100m on returning migrants this year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us