Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had to accept an armistice with Russia, whose heavy support for the rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk had dramatically turned the tables of the war, writes Michael Emerson.
Michael Emerson is Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). He is also a former EU ambassador to Moscow.
Tuesday 16 September, 2014, the Ukrainian Rada and the European Parliament together simultaneously voted ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU with video connection between Strasbourg and Kyiv. The symbolism could not have been clearer. President Poroshenko hailed this an historic act, putting Ukraine on the way towards full membership of the EU.
The Rada also voted to support President Poroshenko’s peace plan for eastern Ukraine, which included the offer of a three-year period of some kind of self-government for those parts of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts that are today held be the separatist rebels. Also to be provided, special cross-border links with Russia and guarantees for the use of the Russian language. To this, many political parties in Kyiv, apart from that of the President, screamed ‘capitulation’… to Russia.
Further confusing the picture, last week, on 12 September, at a trilateral meeting in Brussels of the EU, Ukraine and Russia it was agreed to postpone until the end of 2015 the ‘provisional application’ of large parts of the Association Agreement and its Deep and Comprehensive Free trade Area (DCFTA).
What’s going on here?
Ratification means that Ukraine clearly confirms its European choice, and for much or its population and territory it is lost to Putin’s Russia ,which has made itself into the enemy. The EU must now do all it can to support Ukraine fast, and we have a proposal below.
Capitulation means that Poroshenko had to accept an armistice with Russian military power, whose hugely increased support to the rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk had dramatically turned the tables of the war, just as the Ukrainian army was poised to take the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk at the end of August. The terms of Poroshenko’s peace plan are not yet precisely known: what territory will be self-governing, just east of the ceasefire line, and so only a third of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts? What kind of local autonomy will there be there? The rebels for their part say they would like some kind of Transnistrian regime for starters, and go on and establish and independent Novorossiya republic, stretching down all the Azov Sea coast line to give a land corridor into Crimea, and thence on to their ultimate dream of a corridor though to the original Transnistria, leaving the rest of Ukraine landlocked. And presumably Putin would like the idea too.
Postponement means that Poroshenko and the EU were willing to compromise with Russia over its attempts to secure more favourable terms for Russian economic interests in trading with Ukraine, if not to stop the Association Agreement with the EU entirely. The postponement of the ‘provisional application’ of large parts of the Agreement does not change its substance or text, and so at face value is costless. It provides time for continuing trilateral talks over some reasonable topics, like the technical regulations regarding Russian exports to Ukraine after the Agreement is in force. No further legal act is needed for the Agreement to come definitively into effect when all 28 member states have caught up with the European Parliament and ratified themselves. The member states could easily put ratification on a fast track, and some have ratified already. Like that the Agreement could come fully into force even before the end of 2105.
Whether any kind of reasonable compromise around the EU-Ukraine-Russia triangle is possible remains to be seen. Many people in the EU and Ukraine will be totally skeptical, and their arguments are well backed up by Putin’s deceitful tactics and propaganda. Putin’s neighbourhood policy is rouhgly speaking a 21st century version of that of Ghengis Khan: either submit to my authority, or I will destroy you. For some others, nonetheless ‘hope springs eternal’.
 “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”, poem of Alexander Pope, 1733.