The European Parliament in Strasbourg and the Ukrainian Parliament in Kyiv simultaneously ratified today (16 September) the landmark EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA), but important concession made to Russia suggest the future of the relation is in doubt.
Ukraine’s parliament ratified the AA agreement on Tuesday, coupled with a “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement” (DCFTA) with the European Union, whose rejection last November by then-President Viktor Yanukovich led to his downfall (see background).
The agreement, whose ratification was synchronised with that of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, won unanimous support from the 355 deputies who took part in the vote.
Referring to the deaths of anti-government protesters who came out against Yanukovich’s rejection of the pact with the EU and of soldiers killed in fighting separatists since, President Petro Poroshenko said: “No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans.”
In Strasbourg, MEPs backed the agreement with 535 votes in favour, 127 against and 35 abstentions.
Concessions to Moscow
In what appears to be major concessions to Moscow, the Ukrainian Parliament also passed a law, granting a special status to the rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine and gave amnesty to the combatants, previously called “terrorists” by the authorities in Kyiv.
The amnesty affects rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but does not cover the shooting down of the MH17 plane.
Also, the DCFTA will not enter into force until the end of 2015, under an agreement reached on 12 September in Brussels between the Commission, Russia and Ukraine.
Speaking to MEPs, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, who helped broker the deal of 12 September, said that if Russia continues to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, the Union will change its decision of freezing the provisional application of DCFTA.
De Gucht also basically admitted that Ukraine is destabilised by “a new frozen conflict” in its eastern part. Frozen conflicts have become Russia’s trademark, preventing countries from Moldova to Georgia to advance on their way to EU integration, because of unsolved territorial disputes orchestrated by Moscow.
MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP, PL), the rapporteur on the ratification, called “regrettable” the “proposal” to delay the implementation of the agreement. In fact, EU countries have still to approve the 12 September deal.
He also said that his sources in Moscow explained that Russia has already requested changes to be made to the text of the AA. In fact, the massive document of almost 1000 pages has been finalised and re-opening it would amount to scrapping years of efforts from the EU and the Ukrainian side.
Asked to comment if the concessions made to Russia in recent days and hours were part of the peace plan, aimed at putting an end to a fratricide “asymmetric war”, the Commission provided no clear answer.
Asked to comment if the “special status” for eastern Ukraine was not an open door to another frozen conflict, a Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic referred to the peace plan agreed in Minsk, in which she said there were “steps foreseen in this direction”. She added that the decentralisation of power was one of the issues discussed and included in the peace plan.
“We are waiting for more information”, she however added.
All EU countries need to ratify the AA. Six have done so thus far.
Opinion leaders suggest that Russia has got the upper hand in the Ukraine conflict and that the EU has lost appetite to stand its ground. Jan Techau from Carnegie Europe writes that the EU will fail as Ukraine’s guarantor, and that it cannot prevail over Russia in the long haul.
“There are severe doubts that the EU has the political will and the diplomatic toughness to insist on conditionality, the core piece of the neighborhood policy […]The picture is further complicated by the fact that getting serious about being Ukraine’s guarantor will lead to permanent conflict with Russia”, Techau writes.