The European Union will begin implementing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Ukraine in 2016, despite Russian pressure for another delay, according to a draft statement prepared for a summit with six of the bloc’s eastern neighbours this month in Riga.
The joint declaration, which is likely to antagonise Moscow, commits to the deal beginning 1 January 2016, a date already a year later than planned, as Russia seeks to oppose European efforts to integrate Ukraine, and move it out of Moscow’s sphere of orbit.
Russia is pushing for the deal to be postponed for at least another year, according to a Ukrainian official. But the EU is insisting there can be no further delay.
Although the EU is willing to discuss Russian concerns, implementation “will be a top priority of the EU and the partners concerned for the coming years”, the draft said.
The deal is at the heart of tensions that have grown out of a tug-of-war over influence in Kyiv to sanctions, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, and concern in the West about a new Cold War.
According to he political declaration accompanying the Minsk agreement, the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine support trilateral talks between the EU, Ukraine and Russia in order to achieve practical solutions to concerns raised by Moscow, concerning the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.
At a recent public event, it became obvious that the Commission is pushing Ukraine towards trilateral free trade with Russia, which doesn’t appear to be to the taste of Kyiv.
Trilateral discussions on the impact of the DCFTA on the Russian economy and on trade relations with Ukraine did take place on 20-21 April. But, according to the Russian ambassador to the EU, they didn’t lead to a breakthrough.
But aside from the EU’s show of support for Ukraine, the 21-22 May Eastern Partnership summit will offer little for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova, according to the draft, as EU governments moderate their ambitions, fearful of further antagonising the Kremlin.
Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine signed association agreements with the European Union last year, and want to join the European Union. But the draft made no mention of their aspirations.
Instead, it said that neither Georgia nor Ukraine will be immediately granted visa-free travel to the European Union, as Tbilisi and Kyiv had hoped, and that they need reforms to be able to enjoy the kind of treatment Moldova has been granted.
The tepid tone was far from the ambitions of the last Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in 2013, where the European Union sought to encourage a historic shift away from Russia by the six former Soviet republics.
Brussels now appears to accept that Armenia has chosen to side with Moscow after the country decided in 2013 to join a customs union led by Russia, its former Soviet master and its biggest foreign investor. “It is for the EU and its sovereign partners to decide on how they want to proceed with their bilateral relations,” the draft said.
An Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November 2013 ended with a major disappointment for the EU, as Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, decided to put off the signature of a landmark Association Agreement (AA) with the EU, coupled with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). Meanwhile, Yanukovich turned to Russia, obtaining a $15 billion loan and cheaper gas.
Following the news that their country had turned to Russia, pro-European Ukrainians staged protests which developed into a popular revolution to oust Yanukovich, who left the country abandoning power on 21 February 2014.
Russia however considered this a coup d’état, and has ever since sought to destabilise Ukraine. Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was annexed in March 2014, and a ‘hybrid war’ is being waged in the Donetsk and Lugansk areas, which are no longer under the control of Kyiv.