Russia, EU set to clash on causes of Ukraine turmoil

Vladimir Poutine lors d'un sommet UE-[Parlement européen]

EU leaders will tell Vladimir Putin when they meet for a summit in Brussels tomorrow (28 January) that the present Ukrainian crisis was prompted by Russian pressure on Kyiv. The Russian president is expected to counter by saying that the EU made the first move by offering Ukraine a free trade agreement and for meddling in its internal affairs.

Despite declarations that the upcoming EU-Russia summit is “not about Ukraine”, the dramatic situation in the country is expected to be at the centre of the two-hour meeting.

An EU diplomat told reporters that the Russian pressure on Ukraine, which led to the decision by President Viktor Yanukovich to put off the signature of the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU and to the subsequent protests, had prompted the political turmoil in Ukraine.

This statement augurs that the summit could degenerate into a blame game in which Putin could in return accuse the EU of trying to impose association on Ukraine and a so-called 'Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement', for which Russia says Ukraine is not ready. Russian officials say that the DCFTA would impact negatively on Russian trade relations with Ukraine and that Brussels should have consulted Moscow first.

Moscow blames the EU for sending its high officials to the Independence Square, or Maidan, in central Kyiv, inflaming protestor resentment against the authorities. Russia too has reportedly interfered in developments in Ukraine, although Moscow's ambassador to Kyiv has denied that Russian riot police have arrived in its neighbour country.

EU diplomats contacted by EURACTIV said that Russia had conducted in the months preceding the Vilnius summit (see background) a massive propaganda campaign warning of catastrophic scenarios if Ukraine signed the agreement. Yanukovich announced on 21 November that Kyiv had decided to stop its preparations to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. 

According to Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister and vice-chancellor from 1998-2005, Yanukovich has always been pro-Kremlin and said that motivation for engaging in negotiations over the AA had been to raise the price that Russia would have to pay to keep Ukraine in its strategic orbit.

According to Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, the president of the centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament, after having successfully contested NATO membership for countries in its neighbourhood over the past years, Russia is now contesting in the same fashion the EU’s Eastern partnership policy, though various means of coercion.

Füle flies to Kyiv again



But now Yanukovich is under pressure from the opposition to resign and call for early presidential elections, initially scheduled for 2015. In an attempt to buy time, Yanukovich has offered one of the opposition leaders, Arseny Yatsenyuk, the post of prime minister, and to the another most prominent one, Vitaly Klitschko, the post of vice-prime minister. The two have not taken their decision yet. A special session on the Ukrainian parliament to be held tomorrow is expected to shed light on possible future developments.

Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle is due to return to Kyiv this evening and be present at the time when the opposition and the power in Ukraine would attempt to negotiate a way out of the turmoil. Asked by EURACTIV if the Commission was advising the Ukrainian opposition to opt for power sharing, spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen avoided a direct answer and insisted that Füle held meetings both with the opposition and the authorities. An “inclusive political process” is “decisive” for stability in Ukraine, she said.

Füle was in Kyiv last Friday and both sides reportedly praised his role as mediator.

The Ukrainian government announced on 21 November that it had decided to stop its preparations to sign an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU. 

Following the news that Yanukovich failed to sign the AA at the Vilnius summit on 28-29 November, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets demanding his resignation [read more]. The protests, called EuroMaidan, have lasted ever since.

On 16 January supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich hastily pushed through in Parliament new laws, in an attempt to curb anti-government protests. The Commission called these laws “shocking” and “disrespectful to democracy” [read more].

The new legislation, which ran to more than 100 pages and a summary of which in English was obtained by EURACTIV, appeared directed mainly at preparing the ground for action to end the street protests.

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