Volodymyr Zastava est un expert du groupe de réflexion Gorshenin Institute base à Kiev.
"European politicians are stepping up criticism of the Ukrainian authorities and some of them even openly boycott Kyiv. This complicates Ukraine’s difficult geopolitical situation even more. At the same time, Vladimir Putin has become the new Russian president, which means that Russia’s pressure on Ukraine will only be ramped up. A logical question arises: how will the Ukrainian government behave in this complex situation?
The fact that Russia is once again headed by Putin definitely does not bode well for Ukraine. As we learned from various sources, including public ones, over the next six years in office, the Russian president intends to mostly concentrate on foreign policy. His “obsession” is the so-called “unification of Russian lands”. For example, Russia intends to enhance its geopolitical status by means of setting up the Eurasian Union – a political and economic association, alternative to the European Union. For this reason, there is no doubt that Russia will strive to drag Ukraine into its integration projects.
Furthermore, Putin is currently in need of quick and effective breakthroughs and accomplishments in foreign policy. And Ukraine, which depends on Russian energy and economy, fits very well for the realisation of these goals. That is why it is pointless to discuss a decrease in the price of Russian gas in the nearest future since Russia will not make such concessions. Furthermore, even if the countries that manage to strike a deal on the sale of the Ukrainian gas transport system to Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom, it is most likely that Russia will start to dictate new conditions. It understands that the US and Europe are growing more irritated with Ukraine, which means that the country has no allies in its negotiations with Russia.
However, this does not mean that Ukraine is ready to make concessions if the situation deteriorates. Official Kyiv will continue to behave as unpredictably and inconsistently as it has been recently. In order to understand this conduct, one needs to know the only thing: all Ukrainian foreign policy, in fact, boils down to manoeuvring between Brussels and Moscow, and tactics have replaced strategy. In other words, Ukraine produces manoeuvres for the sake of manoeuvres. Gorshenin Institute’s experts came to this conclusion over a year ago and it explains a lot.
For example, it explains why Ukraine has not ratified a free trade agreement with the CIS, which Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov signed as a matter of urgency during a summit of the CIS leaders in Russia’s St Petersburg last year. At the same time, this agreement has not even been submitted to the Ukrainian parliament, which puzzles Ukrainian politicians. Hence, an MP of the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary faction, Serhiy Teryokhin, has recently accused Prime Minister Mykola Azarov of exceeding his authority when he signed the free trade agreement. The politician demanded that the Ukrainian prime minister face criminal charges for this under the same article which was used to convict former Tymoshenko, the former prime minister.
Gorshenin Institute polled Ukrainian MPs. Among other questions, the respondents were asked: Are you familiar with the text of the free trade agreement with the CIS which was signed by Azarov? The poll suggested that 225 of MPs were familiar with the text of the agreement. At the same time, lawmakers from various factions admitted that only a few of them had seen the text in full, while those lawmakers who claimed that they were familiar with the text of the agreement knew about its content only from the words of their party leadership.
It should be pointed out that the Ukrainian prime minister signed the CIS free trade agreement right before Ukraine-EU summit in December 2011, during which the parties intended to initial an agreement on a free trade area with the EU. This agreement was not initialled during the summit even though many European experts stated earlier that the free trade area deal with Ukraine was in 95% an economic issue and that European partners were sufficiently interested in signing and initialling of this document. Yet, the actions of the Ukrainian government started to prompt more criticism from and stir discontent of European politicians. For this reason, by hastily signing the free trade agreement with the CIS, official Kyiv wanted to demonstrate to Brussels that Ukraine had an alternative to an economic union with the EU. For example, such a union can be set up with the CIS countries.
However, the fact that the Ukrainian prime minister signed the agreement does not mean that Ukraine intends to ratify it. Furthermore, many actions and statements by high-ranking Ukrainian officials in fact devalued the signing of this document by the prime minister.
Such inconsistent behaviour of official Kyiv became an unpleasant surprise for the speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber, Sergey Naryshkin, who was certain that the ratification of the CIS free trade agreement would take place simultaneously in Russia and Ukraine. He said this at a meeting with the Ukrainian president during his official visit. The Ukrainian government told Russia the same day that Ukraine was not ready and would not ratify this agreement in the nearest future. This position was voiced by the head of the pro-presidential Party of Regions parliamentary faction, Serhiy Yefremov.
The results of the sociological survey conducted among Ukrainian MPs by Gorshenin Institute confirm this as well. The majority of lawmakers said that they did not support the ratification of the CIS free trade agreement.
Even though Russia and other CIS countries are Ukraine's biggest trading partners, this situation demonstrates that Ukrainian politicians do not recognise direct economic benefits from the creation of this economic space.
The poll of Ukrainian MPs also indirectly confirms that the country's political elites are afraid of a huge probability of losing Ukraine's economic sovereignty if the country joins the CIS free trade area.
Ukrainian politicians entertain serious doubts that as a member of a free trade area with the CIS, Ukraine will not be able to effectively protect its rights if 'trade wars' or economic disputes with the countries of the Customs Union (of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) happen again.
As a forecast of the future developments, one can assume that Ukraine will continue its manoeuvres even though it is running out of space for them. This may happen despite the possibility of a real political boycott by Europe and Russia might exert real economic pressure, which would be a catastrophe for Ukraine's export-oriented economy.
Currently, there is no final answer to the question whether it makes sense for Ukraine to join a free trade area with the CIS. At the same time, there is no doubt that Ukraine will reap benefits from Russia's quick entry into the WTO. This will give Kyiv an opportunity to settle economic disputes with Moscow in independent arbitration courts, which is a serious impediment to any repetition of the 'trade wars' in which Russia and Ukraine have been very recently involved."