EXCLUSIVE / The EU finds itself in the embarrassing situation of having mishandled a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Ukraine’s landmark Association Agreement, and the new Kyiv government is furious, EurActiv has found. 

At their summit held yesterday (6 March), EU leaders decided to sign “the political chapters” of the Association Agreement (AA) with Ukraine “soon”, before the Ukrainian Presidential elections scheduled on 25 May.

But the fate of the signature of the AA itself hangs in doubt, because EU leaders had promised Russian President Putin to overcome “different interpretations and misunderstandings” on this pact, EurActiv has learned.

The European Commission refused today (7 March) to explain why EU leaders had decided to disassociate the “political chapters” of the EU-Ukraine AA.

Commission spokesperson Alejandro Ulzurrun repeated the statement pronounced by European Council President Herman Van Romuy at the end of the EU summit, namely that the heads of state and government of the 28-member Union would sign “as a matter of priority” and “very shortly” the political chapters, specifying that this would happen before the 25 May vote.

But he didn’t give any indication as to when the signature of the AA itself could take place.

Such uncertainty is not without risks. As Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizov recently told EurActiv, Moscow believes that a pro-Russian majority in the country has a chance of winning the 25 May elections. An eventual pro-Russia majority in Ukraine could scrap the AA altogether, or more realistically, call a referendum on its signature, the result of which a pro-Russia government could easily manipulate.

Since Moldova and Georgia, which finalised their AAs much later than Ukraine, are due to sign before the end of August, Ulzurrun was asked if this timeframe applied also to Ukraine’s AA. He declined to respond.

One explanation as to why EU leaders opted to diassociate the political chapters from the AA was provided by Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, who spoke to journalists after the summit.

Asked by the correspondent of the Bulgarian National Radio why the economic chapters of the AA requited more time, Oresharski answered: “They require more time, because there is an agreement between the European Commission and Russia that all economic aspects of EU association are discussed before,” he said.

Oresharski obviously referred to the last EU-Russia summit held on 28 January, where the two sides agreed to pursue bilateral consultations at expert level on the Eastern Partnership Association Agreements, and on economic consequences on both sides.

At that time, Ukraine’s AA was still hanging in doubt, as the then-President Viktor Yanukovich had put it on hold, while the Union had already promised to Moldova and Georgia a signature of the agreements by summer.

Ulzurrun said no expert group dealing with “the misunderstandings” and “consequences” of the AAs had been established as a follow-up to the EU-Russia summit.

The official EU position has always been that EU-Ukraine association is a bilateral issue. But Putin, apparently, has played his summit cards better, if he has effectively been able to keep the EU-Ukraine AA hostage to a working group that could never meet. According to information obtained by EurActiv, the new Ukrainian government is enraged by the situation.

Speaking to the press at the EU summit yesterday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk was asked on three occasions when the signing of the AA will take place. He provided no answer and looked furious.

Ukraine’s top diplomat in Brussels recently said that his country wanted to sign the AA and the accompanying Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) on the occasion of the 20-21 Spring EU summit. But the Commission mysteriously said “pedagogical work” was needed first, to counter the campaigns that had been conducted in the country to denigrate the pact in the recent past.