As EU, Ukraine ratify pact, doubts over the future of relations grow


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.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stated:

“Not a single nation has paid such a high price for the right to be Europeans since the Second World War. Nobody will dare close the door of the EU in front of Ukraine,”

Poroshenko said that the 12 September agreement achieved in Brussels had given Ukraine even more than the Agreement provided for. Ukraine has guaranteed preferences until the end of 2015. Ukrainian goods will be sold in the EU duty-free while European goods in the Ukrainian market will be subject to the rates of duty under the WTO rules. “National economy received one and a half additional years to be better prepared for competition with European manufacturers,” he said, expressing gratefulness to Europe for this “multibillion bonus for Ukraine”.

Commenting the vote, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said:

 "Today we have witnessed history being made. Never before has an Association Agreement been voted simultaneously by two parliaments. Today we translate the initiative proposed by President Poroshenko and myself for such a joint vote.  The message this sends could not be clearer:  the European Parliament supports Ukraine in its European vocation. The European Parliament will continue defending a united and sovereign Ukraine.

“In giving its overwhelming support to the Association Agreement, the European Parliament has stood for democracy in Ukraine. With this vote we are supporting the Ukrainian people so that the Maidan dream may become a reality.

“The European Parliament will now continue helping true democracy take root in Ukraine with the next step being the sending of observers to the upcoming elections to make sure that they are free and fair," Schulz said.

The Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU Kostiantyn Yelisieiev said:

“By ratifying the Association Agreement we have buried the attempts to resurrect a new model of the Soviet Union. From now on Ukraine formally stops being a post-soviet country and lays down a new foundation for building a European democratic state.

“Further discussions on the vector of Ukraine’s development are absurd. The ratified Association Agreement with the EU is our resolute response to all the attempts to impose from the outside the unnatural civilization choice on Ukraine”, Yelisieiev said.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU's resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.

On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.

>> Read: Poroshenko says Russia invaded Ukraine

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