Indicating that it is not in a hurry to sing a landmark association agreement with Ukraine, the European Commission said today (28 February) that “pedagogical work” was needed first, to counter the campaigns that had been conducted in the country to denigrate the pact in the recent past.

Yesterday, the Ukrainian ambassador to the EU Kostiantyn Yelisieiev told EurActiv that such a move would bolster his country's strength in the face of Moscow, which is putting greater pressure on Kyiv’s new authorities.  

European Commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly appeared to indicate that the EU was not in a hurry to sign the Association Agreement (AA), whose signature had been mooted for the 20-21 March EU summit.

Bailly explained that the agreement was “on the table”, and that the EU was ready to sign it with a “fully legitimate government”. He added that the Ukrainian authorities had to make the request to sign it and propose a date for the signature, and that the EU countries would then consider such a request.

In particular, Bailly said that “pedagogical work” to counter the campaigns that had been conducted in this country to denigrate the pact.

The Commission’s motivation for insisting on such a new step ahead of the signature of the AA remained unclear. Ukrainian sources told EurActiv that a slander campaign had been conducted against the AA and the accompanying Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), but that now the vast majority of Ukrainians were aware that it was propaganda.

Some of the reports during the slander campaign contained false quotes from the AA, such as that Ukraine had committed to change its rails, which are wider than the EU standard, which would cost billions to the impoverished country. In fact, the AA contains no such requirement.

Asked if the agreement could be signed under the current interim government, or if it would be necessary to wait until the presidential elections on 25 May, he said that the Commission “took note” that the interim cabinet had been endorsed with a constitutional majority by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, and it was therefore considering it “an interlocutor at this stage”. The Ukrainian interim government passed the vote in parliament yesterday.

Asked three times if “an interlocutor” was an equivalent of “a legitimate government”, Bailly finally said that it was “up to the Ukrainian authorities, with the Parliament” to make a proposal for the signature of the AA. Asked if a vote of the Ukrainian parliament was needed for the Commission to consider the request, Bailly said he was not familiar with the Ukrainian constitution, but that the procedure should be sovereign and respect the country’s constitutional requirements.

Bailly added that the EU needed to assess the situation on the ground in Crimea before he it could release a statement.

In the meantime, Ukraine has requested an emergency UN Security Council to discuss the escalating crisis in the country. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and holds the right of veto.

Russia has also been exceedingly careful in making statements on the situation in Ukraine. The Kremlin said in a statement today that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the government "to conduct consultations with foreign partners, including the International Monetary Fund, on the provision of financial aid to Ukraine".

However, it is highly unlikely that Russia will disburse any funds from the promised $15-billion (€11 billion) bailout for Ukraine, seen as a reward for the then President Viktor Yanukovich's decision to reject the signing of the AA in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

Yanukovich, who fled Kyiv during the crisis, has appeared in public in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.