Friday, 6 December 2013

UKRAINE: Failed deal divides Ukrainians

The failure of the Ukraine government to sign a long-awaited trade pact with the European Union has sparked massive protests in the country's capital, Kiev. As street protests escalate, there are echoes of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution.

Tens of thousands demonstrating outside the parliament building are calling for the resignation of the government over its rejection of closer ties with the EU. The crisis has again exposed the East-West oscillation playing out in Ukraine between the EU and former Soviet master Moscow.

The EU warned that Ukraine is risking its economic future by rejecting the trade deal and focussing instead on enhancing ties with Russia. The pact was due to be signed at the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit held in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius on November 28-29, 2013. On the agenda was also the initialling of association and free trade agreements with Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova.

The meeting had been heralded as a defining moment for Europe after years of preparation. Successful signing would have effectively blocked Russian ambitions to restore its influence over former Soviet territory. There seems to be good reason to view the outcome of the meeting in Vilnius as egg on the face for Brussels and as a major triumph for Moscow.

The EaP was initiated by Poland and launched in 2009. It offered an institutionalised forum for discussion of trade and other relations with Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, which all border the EU, and with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia that are located in the South Caucasus.

The ambition behind the EaP was to counter the Kremlin’s talk about the countries in its ‘near abroad’. The reason why the EaP must now be viewed as a general failure is that the programme never offered more than a halfway house. The governments in the ‘near abroad’ had to consider that forging closer ties with Europe would invite retaliation from Russia, and that the EU would not be ready to compensate for severe disruptions in trade and in the flow of energy.

Had Brussels been successful in bringing Ukraine inside the tent, it would have had to contend with Russian sanctions against the ailing Ukrainian economy. Being compelled to come to the rescue of Kiev would have produced further stress on an already overstressed financial situation within the EU.
Once Brussels has digested its humiliation, it may sit back and watch how Moscow deals with the fallout of its ‘victory’.

Much as the EU has been pursuing a programme for ‘partnership’ in the east for which it is not ready to foot the bill, Russia has been pursuing a programme for enlargement of its own that it would not be able to support economically - should it succeed in getting political acquiescence. Moscow has certainly not shied from using strong-arm tactics against other former members of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine has proved a harder nut to crack, but there have been threats of a renewed gas war and a blockade of imports from Ukraine. Now that Kiev has yielded to pressure, one can question what Moscow would gain from a complete assimilation.

A crowning achievement for Russian President Vladimir Putin would be having Ukraine first join the Russian-led Customs Union and then his envisioned Eurasian Union. But it would add such extra burdens to an already weakened Russian economy that it would simply be a Pyrrhic victory.

The bitter truth is that following many years of severe economic mismanagement, Ukraine has turned itself into a poisoned pill that nobody really wants to swallow.

The only party that has sufficient resources to support a genuine Ukrainian recovery is the EU. But to Brussels the thought of offering Ukraine full membership, with access to subsidies and membership of the EU, is outlandish. Even the less costly option of an association agreement was viewed by many as too much.

There are good grounds to argue that the only loser in Vilnius was the Ukrainian economy - and the Ukrainian people. The defining feature of this ‘failed deal’ is that the leadership in Kiev abhors having to join either side. Ukraine remains a country on hold neither committed to Europe or to Russia – a stalemate which favours only its leader President Viktor Yanukovych and his personalisation of power.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Ukraine's Protest-Photo