Russia’s response to Ukraine’s European choice: what is next?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Great hope remains that after the Vilnius Summit in November, Brussels will keep its word and will not leave Ukraine one on one with Russia, whose president, Vladimir Putin, will aspire for geopolitical revenge and a return of Kyiv to the Eurasian area at any price, writes Roman Rukomeda.

Roman Rukomeda is a Ukrainian political expert

“On the eve of the 22 September G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that he saw the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at the forthcoming Vilnius Summit as inevitable. Putin said that after the signing of the Association Agreement (AA) and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, Russia would not cease to be a Ukrainian neighbor; and although the relations of the two countries would change, they would not stop. Moreover, the Russian President insisted that the AA is far from full membership and is merely a form of deepening the partner relations. Putin’s conclusion was extremely simple: “Ukraine will not get away from Russia anyway”.   

The Russian President’s comments revealed that the Kremlin was psychologically preparing for the expected positive outcome of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November for the EU and Ukraine, as well as for Moldova and Georgia. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that the Kremlin accepts Kyiv’s European choice, leading to the unavoidable restructuring of Russian-Ukrainian relations. Quite the opposite, Russia will try to upset the mutual understanding between the EU and Ukraine to the utmost, by activating its considerable arsenal of tools and methods.  

A piece of news which confirms this view is the vigorous circulation in the Russian mass media of reports about the forthcoming appointment of the Kremlin’s retired “grey cardinal” Vladislav Surkov, to the post of the Russian President’s Aide responsible for the supervision of the relations with Ukraine. Most experts thought that Surkov being was assigned to an already lost line of activity, but such analysis is mistaken. Surkov’s main objective will not be the impediment of the AA signature, but rather the long-standing sabotage of the relations between Kyiv and Brussels just after the Vilnius Summit. It is definitely clear that Moscow has already made its stakes in the Ukrainian presidential campaign, the results of which will become known in 2015.   

This time Putin intends to take over Ukraine again thanks to a president completely loyal to him and supported by anew pro-Russian political elite. Such an objective is achievable in Ukraine through the absolute control over the N.1 politician (the president) and his administration. Most likely, all of the more or less influential pro-Russian organization in Ukraine will soon become dramatically more active, having received a financial and human back-up, beginning with the Motherland Party headed by the unseated deputy Ihor Markov, the Communist Party of Ukraine, the civil movement Ukrainian Choice led by Viktor Medvedchuk and finishing with the political propaganda at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. A completely different question is to what extent President Viktor Yanukovych will be capable of retaining the activity of such organizations under his control, capitalizing on his adherence to them in the past.

One should not expect that Russia’s foreign policy pressure should decline after the Vilnius Summit. Most probably, it would remain extremely high. But not only Ukraine is in the focus of the Russian Federation’s attention. Lately Moscow has been using the instrument of access to its market against Moldova yet more actively. The Russian supervisory bodies has already stopped the access of Moldovan alcohol drinks (wine, brandy) to its market and are threatening to soon extend this measure to fruit and vegetables as well. This is a sensitive problem for the Moldavian authorities, but not indeed critical. So far Chisinau has managed to retain its firm stand on the movement towards Europe.   

Conversely, Armenia failed to resist the Russian pressure and just after President Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Moscow last September, it declared its intention to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. As a result, Yerevan wiped out the many-years-old project of European integration, and from now will be anchored to Moscow for a long time.

In this context, Russian representatives, in particular, Sergey Glazyev, the Advisor of the President of the Russian Federation responsible for the Customs Union issues and relations with Ukraine, openly stated that immediately after the AA signature, Moscow will unilaterally exclude Ukraine from the Free Trade Area with the Community of Independent States, although the lawfulness of such a step is very disputable. As Ukraine will be cancelling import duties for goods from the EU after the AA and DCFTA signature, the Eurasian Commission will be imposing a single customs tariff in relation to Ukrainian goods. Thus, Ukraine will have to undergo a reduction in the export of its products to Russia in the recent future (up to 25% of the whole volume).   It is fraught with billion losses for both the Ukrainian industry and the state budget. European Commissioners and Members of Parliament assure the Ukrainian leadership of their support for Kyiv during the transition period, which will be 2014. Great hope remains that Brussels will keep its word and will not leave Ukraine one on one with Russia, whose President will aspire for a geopolitical revenge and return of Kyiv to the Eurasian area at any price.  

Meanwhile, Yanukovych has officially stated that Ukraine has met the criteria needed for the AA and DCFTA signature. The government, having approved the AA and DCFTA project, is undergoing an active preparation for the reformation of the Ukrainian economy to meet the EU standards. A great attention has also been paid to the raising of democratic standards and human rights.

Against this background, those experts are right who talk about a possible Europeanization of Russia through Ukraine, as Kyiv also carries on, to some degree, influencing the “minds and hearts” of thinking Russians who are supporters of the united Europe from “Lisbon to Vladivostok” and not of Russia as the last “island of stability” or a “besieged fortress”.

Possibly, Ukraine’s new historic mission is to drive Russia back to Europe and to complete the formation process of the single European cultural and civilizational, economic and energy area rather than to create new dividing lines of confrontation in Europe of the 21 century.”

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