Ukraine rejects pre-conditions for EU deal

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Ukraine's top diplomat in Brussels says his country rejects any kind of pre-conditions for the signature of its Association Agreement with the EU ahead of the leadership summit to be held on Monday.

Ambassador Kostiantyn Yelisieiev's statement appears to be a response to Brussels' demands that Ukraine should respond to three conditions before the agreement could be signed.

Štefan Füle, commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, recently repeated in Kyiv the three conditions for the signature, including judicial reforms.

Yelisieiev said his country fails to understand why conditions are imposed on Ukraine. He said, for example, that the United States is not being forced to abolish the death penalty before the EU moves forward in setting up a free trade area with its transatlantic partner.

“You try to treat Ukraine as an accession country,” Yelisieiev said, referring to the stringent requirements candidates must meet to become an EU member.

The Commission treats Ukraine as a neighbourhood partner outside the EU enlargement framework.

Nevertheless, the diplomat praised Füle and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for what he called their good understanding of his country’s situation.

Yelisieiev sounded more critical towards individual member countries, which he said were holding back the progress of bilateral relations.

“Don’t neglect the pro-Russia lobby in the EU,” he said, without elaborating.

‘Shame-and-blame’ policy

Yelisieiev said the “shame-and-blame” policy promoted by such countries had failed, and that the EU had “understood the importance to engage in dialogue” with Kyiv. From December 2011 to December 2012, bilateral relations had been brought to a minimum.

But now, as the diplomat said, the dialogue has intensified and there was a “good climate” in relations.

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is expected to be signed at the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November, during the Lithuanian presidency of the EU. Yelisieiev said that 2013 was a “make-or-break year” in EU-Ukraine relations, although he declined to comment what would be the fallout in the case of failure.

Disappointment with EU’s ‘lack of solidarity’

The envoy told journalists his country was disappointed with “the very passive approach of Brussels” on issues relating to the gas supply from Russia and its transit through Ukrainian territory.

In particular, he expressed bitterness over the lack of response from Slovakia to pump back Russian gas to Ukraine, though he said Poland had agreed to sell Russian gas to Ukraine.

Despite additional transit taxes for re-routing Russian gas from Germany through Poland to Ukraine and a commission paid to German company RWE, the gas was 20% cheaper than Gazprom’s supplies to Kyiv, he said.

Yelisieiev also expressed bitterness at the “failure to implement the solidarity principle” against South Stream, the Gazprom-favoured project to bring gas to Western Europe bypassing Ukraine, through an offshore pipeline under the Black Sea. He blamed some EU countries for reportedly having requested an exemption for South Stream from the EU’s Third Energy Package.

Despite these setbacks, the Ukrainian ambassador conceded his country did not stay idle and several projects aimed at decreasing energy dependence from Russia were under way, including the development of shale gas.

Regarding the $7 billion (€5.2-billion) bill his country was recently presented by Russia under a 'take-or-pay’ clause, according to which Ukraine has to disburse even if it hasn’t imported the gas, he also blamed the EU for having kept “silent”.

The Ukrainian ambassador also criticised EU countries for not applying in full the Third Energy Package, and also for the Commission allowing EU standards to be applied on an arbitrary basis.

“We would like to see the EU more pro-active, less shy,” Yelisieiev said.

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