The Ukrainian parliament's speaker said yesterday (9 September) that MPs would pass the laws required by Brussels as a pre-condition for concluding an EU pact in time for November's Vilnius Summit, paving the way for the signature of a landmark association agreement with the European Union.
Volodymyr Rybak, the chairman of the 'Verkhovna Rada', the Ukrainian parliament, was quoted by the Ukrainian press as saying that the assembly would adopt the remaining laws necessary to sign the association agreement at the beginning of October, in time for the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November.
Returning from a meeting in Lithuania, the country currently holding the rotating EU Presidency last Friday, Rybak stressed that "Europe appreciated the work of Ukraine, which was done over the past two months for meeting the conditions for the signature of the Agreement, in particular, on adaptation of the Ukrainian legislation to the EU standards."
However, he said it was still necessary to adopt the law establishing a prosecutor's office as well as laws on police and on the independent bureau of investigation. The draft bills was ready, he said, and were now being examined by experts at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
Rybak underlined that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich personally led the preparations for the signing of the Agreement. Indeed, speaking at the opening of the parliamentary season on 3 September, Yanukovich called on MPs from his Party of the Regions to vote for the laws, stressing that Ukraine's success at the Vilnius summit should be prepared in Parliament and that the country's European integration was necessary not for the government or the opposition, but for the entire Ukraine.
On 5 September, MPs approved a first set of measures expected to pave Kyiv's path toward closer integration with the European Union. The Verhovna Rada adopted on September 5 a law stipulating milder regulations in penitentiaries that would allow inmates more frequent family visits, the freedom to use mobile phones and cash, and to wear civilian clothes. Laws on reforming customs tariffs and on the stricter implementation of court decisions were also adopted in first readings.
EU reacts on Twitter
The reaction from the EU Commission came in the form of a tweet.
On 6 September, Enlargement and Neigbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle used the microbloging platform to state: “Ukraine: welcome adoption of reform laws, glad to see political consensus on EU agenda. Keep it for remaining tasks to move towards Association Agreement”.
Some progress is reported in the search of a solution regarding jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is expected to be allowed to leave for Germany for treatment. As the issue is highly sensitive, diplomats refuse to provide details of the talks. The European Parliament's special envoys, Former Polish President Alexander Kwa?niewsk and former European Parliament President Pat Cox visited Tymoshenko in hospital, but made no statements.
Tymoshenko’s daughter Eugenia told reporters on 9 September that she hoped that the Ukrainian authorities would “solve the issue”.
Russian pressure builds up
In the meantime, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev followed in the footsteps of President Vladimir Putin, warning of the consequences if Ukraine forms a trade bloc with the EU, instead of joining Russia’s Customs Union.
Last July Putin urged Ukraine to weigh carefully the benefits of joining Russia's regional trade bloc against its plans for closer ties with the European Union. Later, Russian authorities opened a trade war with Ukraine and a close advisor of Putin said this was a warning of what would happen if Ukraine signs the trade pact with the EU.
Ukraine's economy is heavily dependent on exports of steel, chemicals and grain, more than 60% of which go to the former Soviet market, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan – all members of the Customs Union – the biggest markets.
"I don't want there to be any illusions … Practically, for our Ukrainian partners, entry into the Customs Union will be closed," Medvedev told his deputy premiers during a weekly meeting, quoted by RFE/RL.
"This is a key political decision that the leadership of Ukraine is making," he said.
Russia has stepped up pressure on countries in its neighbourhood with the approach of the Vilnius summit. Moldova said it will continue its EU course, but Armenia announced it would join the Customs Union, thus abandoning plans for closer EU integration. The move by Yerevan apparently took EU officials by surprise.
It is unclear what the EU’s response will be in case Russia opens a full-fledged trade war against Ukraine and Moldova, if the two countries take steps toward closer EU integration at the Vilnius summit. Russia is reportedly prepared to see Ukraine sign the Association Agreement, and reverse Kyiv's decision, possibly after the March 2015 presidential election.