After months of delays and hesitation, the EU and Ukraine finally held a bilateral summit in Brussels yesterday (25 February).
Speaking alongside Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after the summit, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy reiterated the three areas where the EU wants to see progress before signing an Association Agreement with Kyiv.
The three conditions are to address the problem of "selective justice" - a reference to the imprisonment of Tymoshenko and her Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko -, dealing with the democratic shortcomings stemming from the October national elections, and advancing judiciary reforms.
“I have underlined the European Union's call for determined action and tangible progress in these areas at the latest by May this year,” Van Rompuy said.
Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, said recently his country would reject any pre-conditions for the signature of its Association Agreement. The deal is expected to be signed at the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November, during the Lithuanian presidency of the EU.
Both Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the conditions were not additional requirements for Ukraine, but were contained in the Association Agreement and in the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) which is also ready to be signed.
Speaking in Ukrainian, Yanukovych said the outstanding issues could be solved in time for the Vilnius summit.
Barroso said the Ukrainian president had expressed his “unequivocal commitment to seizing this opportunity to pursue genuine reforms and to uphold democratic values.”
Turning to Yanukovych, who was inaugurated three years ago, Barroso said the anniversary should be “a day for very important decisions”.
“I hope to count on your commitment and personal support to achieve our common goal of political association and economic integration between the European Union and Ukraine. This can be achieved. I hope it will be achieved,” Barroso said.
Another highlight of the summit was cooperation on energy, with both sides aiming to prevent a repeat of the 2009 gas crisis that left part of the European Union short of supplies during a bitter January.
According to the joint summit statement, the EU will continue its support for the modernisation of the Ukrainian gas transportation system and pledged to disburse the first loan installment for an emergency gas transit project called “Reconstruction of Line Facilities of the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod Natural Gas pipeline, first stage”.
Ukraine has been connected to the EU gas market through bi-directional gas flows since November, the statement said.
Poland is already supplying Ukraine with Russian gas from Germany. The gas is reportedly 20% cheaper than Gazprom’s direct supplies to Kyiv.
Despite recent statements by the Ukrainian ambassador to the EU who criticised Slovakia for not cooperating in providing reverse gas flows, the Ukrainian Minister of Energy and Coal Eduard Stavytskyi said that in the near future his country could secure annual 30 billion cubic meters (bcm/y) of gas from the west - through Poland and Slovakia. He said it would cover Ukraine's annual domestic demand for gas.
The amount is considerable, comparing it with the output of planned pipelines such as South Steam (38 bcm/y) or the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline TAP and Nabucco West, each from 10 to 20 bcm/y depending on the availability of gas from Azerbaijan.
The plans of Ukraine to develop shale gas in cooperation with Royal Dutch Shell have reportedly also been discussed.
Officially Ukraine aims at achieving full independence from Russian gas supplies and has already converted part of its industry to coal.
While the EU-Ukraine summit was ongoing, thousands took to the streets in Ukraine, protesting against the authoritarian trends of Yanukovych’s government.