Ukraine calls on EU to anchor it to the West

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Ukraine’s envoy to the European Union pleaded for the EU to sign an Association Agreement to anchor his country to the West if next month’s parliamentary elections are shown to be free and fair.

Ambassador Kostiantyn Yelisieiev said his country was making efforts to be “as open as possible” and to convince the EU that it deserves support.

“If we sign the Association Agreement, we will stop the discussion whether Ukraine is going East or West. This will be the point of no return,” the diplomat said told journalists in Brussels on 19 September.

Elections are scheduled on 28 October with 225 members of parliament to be elected by party list, and 225 in majority districts.

The Ambassador said that 700 observers from OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will be on the ground. Of them, 600 are short-term, and 100 are long-term, meaning that they oversee also the campaign. Overall, 5,000 monitors will participate and the upcoming ODIHR mission will be the most ambitious in the history of the organisation, he said.

'Very much open'

Yelisieiev noted that Russia only invited 200 observers to monitor its presidential election earlier this year.

“We are very much open. There are no limitations whatsoever. It’s up to the monitors to choose any region they would like to visit,” he said.

Yelisieiev specified that at least four parties were bound to pass the 5% barrier and enter the parliament: the ruling Party of Regions of President Viktor Yanukovich; the United opposition (former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna in coalition with the Front for change of Arseniy Yatsenyuk); the UDAR party of boxer Vitaliy Klychko, who in the envoy’s words has increased its support to 11-12%; and the Communists.

He said two parties were close to the 5% threshold, but still under it: Svoboda, which he called “radical-nationalistic”, and the liberal Ukraine – Forward!, the party of Nataliya Korolevska which managed to engage world-known football player Andriy Shevchenko.

Asked if he expected the elections to be recognised as free and fair, since the imprisoned Tymoshenko was denied registration as an election candidate, Yelisieiev said her supporters were free to vote for her political force. He even said such a situation could even motivate more people to vote for her.

Yelisieiev also voiced frustration that there was a risk that no EU-Ukraine summit would be held this year. Normally such summits take place once a year. Last year’s summit was held in December in Kyiv. He also admitted that at this stage, it was impossible to say what could be the agenda of such summit.

“The EU doesn’t have a strategy with Ukraine,” the diplomat said.

A high price for keeping distance from Russia

In his effort to convince news media of the pro-European positions of his government, Yelisieiev said Ukraine is paying dearly its refusal to join a Moscow-backed customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine pays the highest price for Russian gas compared to the other countries. Ukraine imports about two-thirds of the gas it consumes from Russia, at a price of $425 (€340) per 1,000 cubic metres in the second quarter, up from $416 (€333) in the previous quarter.

Moscow has said it will cut the price for Ukraine only if Gazprom is allowed to buy into Ukrainian gas pipelines. Ukraine has so far refused to accept the trade-off.

The December 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit failed to initial the country's Association Agreement with the Union, largely due to the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that Brussels sees as politically motivated.

The five-year long negotiations over the Association Agreement were concluded, but EU leaders made it clear that the deal would not be signed until improvements are made to the "quality of democracy and rule of law"

On 30 March, the Association Agreement was initialed. Although this is only a technical step before the official signature, the Commission said the move was important for "keeping the momentum" in relations with Kyiv.

The EU wants to keep Ukraine in its orbit at a time when Russia becomes more assertive with its neighbours and invites Ukraine to join its Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as the so-called Eurasian Union. However, Brussels insists that it would not compromise on "core EU values".

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