Putin ‘deserves medal’ for pushing Ukraine towards EU

Yatseniun Fuele.jpg

A Ukrainian opposition leader jokingly said yesterday (29 August) that by staging a trade war against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin “deserved a medal” for boosting Kyiv's chances of signing its Association Agreement with the EU in November.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Batkivschchyna party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said that after the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit on 28 and 29 November, when Ukraine is expected to sign its EU Association Agreement, he would ask that Putin be awarded for achieving this goal.

Yatseniuk and two other parliamentary opposition leaders, Vitali Klitschko (UDAR) and Oleh Tiahnybok (Svoboda), spoke to the Brussels press yesterday together with Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle.

“Russians have decided to make punitive actions against Ukraine,” Yatseniuk said, referring to the recently launched trade war against his country, which he said paved the way for Ukraine's EU integration.

“The Berlin wall fell more than 20 years ago, and there is no need to construct a new one. But these guys in Moscow want to build it on the Ukrainian-EU border,” Yatseniuk said, speaking in English.

On 22 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow may have to use protective measures should Ukraine sign a trade agreement with the EU.

Russia is pushing Ukraine to become part of its Customs Union, already joined by Belarus and Kazakhstan. Brussels has made it clear that membership of the Customs Union and association status with the EU are incompatible.

>> Read: Moscow warns Ukraine over EU pact signature

Asked by EURACTIV if he thought that a recent document published by Zerkalo Nedeli, which appears to be a leaked Kremlin strategy to bring Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit, is genuine and if it should be taken seriously by EU leaders, Yatseniuk said:

“We are not the experts to determine the signature of this action plan. But look at the actions the Russians are taking and look at the language of this document. They are similar. It seems to me that this action plan is quite authentic,” Yatseniuk said.

Russia’s ‘action plan’?

The 14-page document, the authenticity of which cannot be verified, says that the eventual membership of Ukraine to the Russian-sponsored Customs Union would bring additional trade exchange to the volume of $9 billion (€6.7 billion), while the proposed EU-Ukraine free-trade agreement would worsen Kyiv’s trade balance by $1.5 billion (€1.12 billion).

This largely corresponds to a recent statement by Russian presidential advisor Sergei Glyazev, who said that signing the free trade agreement with the EU would be “suicidal” for Ukraine.

The paper indicates that Russia will deploy all efforts to prevent Ukraine from signing the EU pact, and that it will strongly back pro-Russian candidate Viktor Medvedchuk at the 2015 presidential election. ‘Ukrainian Choice’, the political party of Medvedchuk, is envisaged to play a leading role in promoting the country’s accession to the Customs Union.

Indeed, over a recent visit to Ukraine, Putin reportedly spent only 15 minutes in a meeting with his counterpart Yanukovich, but attended a long event hosted by Medvedchuk.

Among the measures envisaged in the paper is “neutralising the media impact” of pro-European forces in Ukraine by supporting opinion makers who are favourable to Russia, as well as "sanctioning” pro-European Ukrainian oligarchs. The goal is for Ukraine to join the Customs Union in 2015, according to the document.

The paper also envisions that pro-European civil servants in Ukraine institutions, especially in the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of defence, “who are de facto agents for Euro-Atlantic influence”, should be “discredited” and not allowed to remain in office after the presidential election.

The paper also advises that President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko should put pressure on his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych and convince him to turn to Moscow, as EU leaders "don't like him anyway".

However, recent developments between Russia and Belarus would most likely discourage any country to join the Customs Union.

Tension between Russia and Belarus rose yesterday, as Moscow warned oil supply cuts to its energy-poor neighbour could last for months, and Minsk threatened to open a criminal case against a Russian tycoon with Kremlin ties.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said yesterday (29 August) that he was convinced his country would sign a free-trade deal with the European Union as part of a broader association agreement, the Russian agency RIA Novosti reported.

“For today, I see no obstacles to signing this document,” he said in comments aired on Ukrainian television. “All requirements put forward by the European Union will be met. I have no doubts about that.”

Yanukovych also commented on the “trade war”, describing it as “hasty” and “ill-thought-out.”

He said Russia and Ukraine, who have had a series of politically driven commercial spats since the fall of the Soviet Union, should find a “pragmatic solution” on how to manage their economic relations.

“I’m far from [thinking] that we should make our relations with Russia and Customs Union states more complicated. On the contrary, we should think of how to make them simpler and search for mutual understanding,” he said. “The Russian president is also concerned about this issue, because he clearly understands that any complicated situation concerning these ties would affect both Ukraine and Russia.”

An association agreement between the EU and Ukraine was initialled more than a year ago and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) was agreed as well in principle.

However, the EU made their 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.

  • 6-7 Sept.: Gymnich-type informal meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers, Vilnius
  • 28-29 Nov.: Eastern Partnership Summit, to be held in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU presidency. Ukraine hopes to sign the agreement there.

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