Sunday

3rd Mar 2024

Ukraine chaos poses questions on EU enlargement

Ukrainian diplomats in Brussels say political chaos in Kiev will not derail the country's EU accession goal, but the EU's frostiness on further enlargement - with some member states keen to fix final borders - threatens to damage relations with the post-revolutionary state.

"Regardless of the colour of the coalition, EU integration of Ukraine will be the parameter of any government that will be created," Ukrainian EU embassy number two man Konstantyn Yesilieiev stated. "Everybody sees Ukraine in the EU. The differences are only on tactics."

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  • Mr Yanukovych - the rise of his pro-Russia and anti-NATO party is being watched nervously in Brussels (Photo: www.ya2006.com.ua)

"Right now the Ukrainian side is a little worried about the debate on the future borders of the EU," he added. "The borders of the enlarged EU should be limited at the eastern border of Ukraine...We need a firm political statement from the EU [on future membership]."

The remarks - spoken at a gathering of eastern European ambassadors in Brussels - come as former Orange Revolution allies Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko's coalition plans unravelled yet again this week, with president Yushchenko starting fresh talks with the "blue" camp of pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine has failed to agree on a government for the past three months with riotous scenes in the Kiev parliament - the Verkhovna Rada - on Tuesday as rival factions exchanged punches and sounded klaxons in an atmosphere recalling the turbulent days of the 2004 revolution itself.

The EU is currently in talks over a new post-2007 association pact with Ukraine, but member states in the June council refused to give European Commission negotiators a mandate to insert any statement on enlargement into the text - cutting even soft wording that "the EU recognises the European aspirations" of Kiev.

"They are lucky we did not insert a statement saying we do not recognise their aspirations. They could be fighting to remove that," one EU diplomat joked.

Ukraine is a key energy transit state for the EU - channeling 80 percent of Russian gas - and a target for NATO expansion. But 20 million of the country's 50 million population is ethnically Russian and mistrusts any NATO moves, often linked politically with EU moves in pro-Russian hotspots such as the Crimea peninsula.

Play the game

Slovak and Hungarian ambassadors as well as analysts such as UK expert Alan Mayhew - who advised Poland and other new member states on EU entry in the 1990s - urged Ukraine to focus on internal "Europeanisation" of its political, judicial and business environment rather than focusing on EU-based foreign policy for now.

"The European Treaty already guarantees you a European perspective. No one can argue against that, although they can try and change the Treaty," Mr Mayhew said. "But as the Europeans keep coming at you with negatives, don't react like Zidane, just keep playing the game."

French footballer Zinedine Zidane head-butted an Italian player after an alleged insult in last Sunday's World Cup final but went on to win an award for best player. "Maybe we should react like Zidane - after all he did what he did and then got his prize," Ukraine's fiery Mr Yesilieiev stated.

The EU Treaty currently says that any country fulfilling political and economic criteria and being geographically located in Europe can join the club. But states like France and the Netherlands are pushing for new rules allowing the EU to reject countries on grounds of internal public opinion or potential over-stretch of EU institutions.

"In my opinion, after the Balkans the door will be closed. Ukraine and Turkey are too big to join even though we cannot say this openly. We will have to find something else, some kind of 'European Neighbourhood Policy plus' for these countries," one EU diplomat told EUobserver.

EU blues

Ukraine's frustration with EU mechanisms began just a few months after the Orange Revolution in November 2004, when Mr Yushchenko's right hand man and then-deputy prime minister - Oleg Rybachuk - came to Brussels for high-level talks on the country's future.

"He said to me - look, we've burned our bridges with Russia so you have to let us in. I represent Yushchenko. I can negotiate for Ukraine. But I have been sent from one commission department to the next for nothing. Tell me - who is the guy to speak to in the EU? How can we get this done?" the EU official recalled.

Meanwhile, Georgia's ambassador to the EU, Salome Samadashvili, warned against taking Mr Yesilieiev's statements on foreign policy continuity at face value, adding that the EU is being naive if it thinks the future of Ukraine can be decided by EU free trade zones with no thought for Russian geo-political manouevres.

"The Yanukovych coalition is built around hostility to NATO and this is worrying. If the government changes, the Ukrainian embassy [in Brussels] could soon begin receiving different instructions," Ms Samadashvili said.

"EU and NATO membership are not questions of economic pragmatism. They are about political values and geopolitical vision," she added.

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