The Ukrainian ambassador to the EU, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, said the signature of an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which could take place in November, would be similar in magnitude for his country to the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany.
Yelisieiev, who was recently promoted to advisor on external political processes to the Ukrainian president, made a passionate plea for the EU to adopt a “strategic vision” on Ukraine's future geopolitical position in Europe.
“We consider in Ukraine the signing of this agreement as the second event after the declaration of the independence of Ukraine [16 July 1990]. And I would like to enforce my argument: this signing for Ukraine will be, like years ago, the fall of the Berlin wall for Germany,” the ambassador said.
The association agreement with Ukraine was initialled more than a year ago but the EU made its signature conditional on progress made in areas such as democratic and judicial reforms, including the release from prison of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The draft agreement offers closer political and economic cooperation, but stops short of offering a path towards EU accession.
Ukraine hopes to sign the agreement at the 28-29 November Eastern Partnership Summit, to be held in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU presidency. Several EU leaders, especially from the former Soviet bloc countries, are pushing for a signature of the association agreement in Vilnius, out of geopolitical considerations. Lithuania, which took over the rotating presidency on 1 July, puts high hopes on the summit's success.
But others, led by Germany, have raised conditions linked to judicial reforms (see background).
Yelisieiev, speaking to several journalists in Brussels, criticised the “lack of strategic vision” of countries that are opposed to signing the agreement.
“This agreement will reinforce the political independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of my country. That’s why those who are against signing this agreement are against an independent, strong, European Ukraine,” he said, without naming Germany.
It was obvious however that the Ambassador's remarks referred to the German position and to that of the centre-right European People’s party in the European Parliament, where Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democrat MEPs play an influential role.
The diplomat said his country had drawn up a chart with the positions of the different EU member states, and found it "strange" that several countries had not spelt out their views.
A blunder in the G8 statement?
Yelisieiev also drew attention to the G8 summit's June communiqué, which “welcomes the trade and economic integration of Russia with some of the countries in the region”. Moscow has long been pushing for a ‘Eurasian Union’, the backbone of which is a Russia-led customs union, involving for the time being only Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made special reference to the sentence during the G8 final press conference, saying: “I was especially happy to see that the summit’s final communiqué states that our G8 colleagues welcome the integration process underway in the post-Soviet area, the Customs Union’s establishment. This is very important for us,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
But Yelisieiev said the G8's apparent show of support for Russia's 'Eurasian Union' raised the suspicion that the EU's G8 members (Germany, France, UK, Italy) were following a “hidden agenda” regarding Ukraine.
EU sources told EurActiv the sentence in the G8 communiqué was a mistake made by the "sherpas", personal representatives of heads of state, who negotiated it on behalf of EU countries. Russian diplomats are considered to be very good at negotiating joint statements, often cheating their counterparts, sources say.
In Kyiv, the incident is certainly not interpreted as a sherpas' error. Yelisieiev said he had requested explanations but had not received a satisfactory answer yet.
Tymoshenko to be sent to Berlin hospital?
Regarding Tymoshenko, Yelisieiev did not deny press reports that the former Ukraine prime minister could be sent to Germany for treatment. The dialogue between Kyiv and Berlin had “drastically intensified” during the last two weeks, he acknowledged.
Asked whether Ukraine was willing to respond to other outstanding issues spelt out by the EU – such as judicial reforms or changes to the electoral law – Yelisieiev answered that "tangible progress" would be made by the beginning of October.
However, a diplomat from one of the largest Western countries contacted by EurActiv made clear that sending Tymoshenko abroad for treatment would not be seen as sufficient to deal with EU concerns about ‘selective justice’.
“Such a move would be welcome, but is not enough,” the diplomat stressed.
An ambassador from an Eastern European country told EurActiv that he didn’t see German pressure on the Tymoshenko case as tenable in the long run.
He said that Tymoshenko “obviously has an issue” with Ukrainian justice over her dealings as a businesswoman and subsequent “abuse of power” in a 2009 gas deal between Ukraine and Russia, and that it was “difficult to disregard” such a fact. He added that the EU usually pressures countries aspiring to joint the EU not to compromise on crimes or corruption cases involving high officials.
“If we had put a former prime minister in jail, the Commission would have congratulated us,” the diplomat said.
EU-Ukraine relations are expected to be discussed by EU foreign affairs ministers on 22 July, but no big decisions are expected. Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly to visit Ukraine on 27 July, in a last attempt to keep the former Soviet republic in Russia's orbit.
At the EU-Ukraine summit on 25 February, Council President Herman Van Rompuy named 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 former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko - dealing with the democratic shortcomings stemming from the October national elections, and advancing judiciary reforms.
David O'Sullivan, the chief operating officer of the European External Action Service, recently spelled out the conditions in greater detail:
- 22 July: EU ministers to discuss Eastern partnership, EU-Ukriane relations, Vilnius summit preparations;
- 27 July: Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly will visit Ukraine;
- 22 Sept.: Germany holds general elections;
- 28-28 Nov.: Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.
- BlogActiv, Reuniting Europe: EU-Ukraine Association agreement, leaked document
- Interfax Ukraine: Azarov: if doctors find reasons for Tymoshenko's treatment abroad, matter will be settled within law