Analyst: It’s good having the EU-Ukraine summit

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The 25 February EU-Ukraine summit is not expected to make a breakthrough in relations between Brussels and Kyiv, but it can set the course for improvement ahead of the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit in November, Amanda Paul, analyst at the European Policy Centre, told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.

Amanda Paul is an analyst and journalist specialising in Turkish foreign policy, Ukraine, the South Caucasus and Cyprus. 

She spoke to EurActiv Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

The EU and Ukraine will hold a summit on 25 February, after a symptomatic lack of such high-level dialogue for more than a year. Probably the very fact that the summit will take place should be seen as positive?

Yes, it’s definitely positive that the summit is going to take place after a very long period of time when we had a lack of dialogue, I would say, between the EU and Ukraine. I think that probably many people in the EU institutions recognise that that lack of dialogue has not have a positive impact on the relationship. So it’s good having the summit.

Still the EU raises very difficult conditions for the relations to develop further: the case of Yulia Tymoshenko, described in EU jargon as “selective justice”, the need to deeply reform the judiciary, and also what appears to be an inconclusive parliamentary election last October. How could such difficult obstacles be lifted?

Obviously these are difficult issues for Ukraine to deal with, but it’s not totally impossible that they are going to be dealt with. To what extent they will be dealt with is a different issue, but I think the EU has made it clear to those in Kyiv they need to make progress on these issues. And as we heard on the occasion of the visit of Commissioner [Štefan] Füle, [responsible for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy] from last week, they made statements saying that they would move forward in all these areas. There are several months between now and the Vilnius [Eastern Partnership summit, due in November], so there is definitely space for Ukraine to make progress in all these areas, if they have the sufficient political will to do it.

And on the Ukrainian side there is also some areas where they would like to see some more tangible commitment from the EU side as well. Specifically for example on energy, which I think is going to be a key area for Ukraine at the summit.

Precisely, the news in this field aren’t good. Ukraine has been presented a $7 billion dollar bill from Russia for gas it has not used, under the so-called “take-or-pay” clause. And under pressure, Ukraine might be pushed to align with Russia on certain issues, don’t you think so?

Ukraine has been under pressure from Moscow for a few years now under this famous gas contract [negotiated in 2009 by then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko]. And I would say the EU hasn’t given necessarily given Ukraine the sort of support, in terms of solidarity, in terms of financial support, they should have given. They certainly haven’t’ met their obligations under the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding with Ukraine. I think the EU needs to send a strong message they are supporting Ukraine vis-à-vis Russia in this situation.

According to recent reports however, Ukraine is tempted to open to Russia for jointly managing its pipeline system, on a 50-50 basis, excluding the EU. What do you think about that?

I don’t think anything has been finalised along that front. We hear so many rumours about what Ukraine is going to do or is not going to do about Russia all the time. I will actually believe when I see something signed on paper. But we know that Russia is putting a hell lot of pressure on Ukraine on this area. At some point something will have to crack, eventually, but we haven’t reached that point. And I don’t think this is something the Ukraine leadership really wants to do. They don’t want to have any further interference from Russia in their energy sector.

How about the internal economic situation of Ukraine? IMF talks reportedly recently broke down, and its representative said large subsidies on gas and heating for households continued to undermine Ukraine's budget and its balance of payments…

Clearly Ukraine is in a very difficult economic situation and there are ongoing talks with the IMF, nothing has changed as far as I’m aware in the last year. Ukraine’s leadership is still unable to move toward meeting the criteria of the IMF and I don’t think in the short term this is likely to change.

Some opposition leaders like Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the Ukrainian opposition parliamentary faction Batkivschyna, the party of Tymoshenko, said there was a need for simultaneous early presidential and parliamentary elections. Do you think this is a reasonable political proposal?

I heard Mr Yatseniuk calling for these early elections, but I don’t think they are very likely to happen. But Ukraine is predictably unpredictable. I think it would be far more useful if Ukraine’s leadership, together with the opposition parties, an opposition that doesn’t seem to have a common voice on anything yet, would be able to form a greater level of solidarity and support for supporting the EU reforms that are needed.

Do you think the internal difficulties of the Union and the crisis background are big obstacles for a more unambiguous relation with Ukraine and other countries of the Eastern Partnership?

The EU has been exhausted for one reason or another for the last ten years, if my memory serves me correctly. I don’t think we will see any massive change in the EU’s approach vis-à-vis the Eastern Partnership or the European Neighbourhood Policy. Everybody’s gearing now for the Vilnius summit and hopefully this is going to deliver some positive results. But actually what happens after that is very unclear. Because the EU doesn’t have a long-term goal what it wants to achieve beyond these Association Agreements and those DCFTAs [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements]. The big question for these countries is what to be next. But the Union will have to deal with the membership perspective probably at least with Moldova, at least that I would imagine.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara recently said that a common economic space should be established between the EU and Russia’s Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. He said that Ukraine could easily find a place in this space – how would you comment?

As far as I’m aware the EU is already in talks how it would possibly digest this Customs Union. But Commissioner Füle repeated in Kyiv that being in the DCFTA and in the Customs Union is not compatible. I think Mr Kozhara is trying to appease his Russian partners, one way or another, with these sorts of statements.

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