• Alejandro Marx

European Union-Russia Summit: discussing Ukraine without the Ukrainians?

Image Source: Euronet Plus

The EU was represented by José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. The Russian Federation was represented by President Vladimir Putin.

The European Union (EU)-Russia Summit, which was held on the 28th of January 2014, was overshadowed by the events taking place in Ukraine. From the press conference following the Summit, we know that it was mostly dedicated to the situation in Ukraine. Discussions on the signing of a new Partnership agreement between the EU and Russia and future visa-free travel were minimal. However, both sides agreed to organise bilateral expert meetings on the potential effects of the EU Eastern Partnership policy on the Russian economy. The 2014 January Summit saw renewed declarations about the continuing yearly growth of trade between the EU and Russia.

The participants announced that they also expected the next EU-Russia Summit to take place in Sochi in June 2014 to see more tangible progress, in particular in relation to the negotiations for a new Agreement ton Partnership and Cooperation between the EU and Russia.

The summit was the opportunity for both the EU and Russia to express their views on Ukraine frankly, behind closed doors. This event saw violent riots and the death of several protesters, after the government led by the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to renounce to sign the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU. Later on, Yanukovich accepted a $15 billion loan from the Russian Federation, in addition to reduced prices for Russian gas delivered to Ukraine and an end to restrictions on Ukrainian exports to Russia, which were imposed in August 2013. [1] Many supporters of the free-trade agreement with the EU declared that this change of policy of the government could lead to Ukraine joining the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU), which currently consists of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. [2] Protests started at the end of November at the “Maidan Nezalezhnosti” square in Kiev, launching the movement entitled Euromaidan. In December, the police intervened violently to remove the protesters from the square. This caused the escalation of the protests: violence was generated by a part of the protesters and the Ukrainian Parliament used this in their favour by passing a law that restricted the activities of demonstrators. [3]

It is regrettable that the EU-Russia Summit was mostly used to discuss the current situation in Ukraine. A discussion on Ukraine by the EU and Russia would have been more powerful with the representatives of the current Ukrainian government and parties of the opposition to express the views of the Ukrainians. Those in the EU who want to push Ukraine to sign a free-trade agreement with the EU, leading in the future to potential EU membership, or those in Russia pushing for Ukraine’s ECU membership, do not seem to take into account the variety of opinions in Ukraine.

If Ukraine were to be part of the ECU, economic links between Russia and the industrial regions of Eastern Ukraine and visa-free travelling between the two countries could continue. However, the Western regions of Ukraine would find themselves at the periphery of the ECU. As for Ukraine, signing a free-trade agreement with the EU, could lead to new industries and a new export market led by Western Ukraine, which would mean that the industries in the East (Antonov, ZAZ, etc.) will have to face new barriers. There would be a shift from exporting to countries member of the ECU to other countries. It is yet unclear if these industries could gain access to EU markets.

Opinions in Ukraine are quite varied and if other states do not understand that, then everything might backlash. ECU supporters are wrong to believe that they can ignore the opinions of the Ukrainians in the West and instead receive support from the Russian-speaking citizens of Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine, without providing them with an effective rule of law (the rape of Irina Krashkova in July 2013 and the rape and murder of Oksana Makar in March 2012 were prosecuted only after public protests took place) [4] and a more diversified economy. Also EU Ukrainian supporters and the EU member states should realise that a proportion of the EuroMaidan protesters, such as "Pravy Sektor", does not adhere to EU values and sees the current membership debates as a way to create their own independent Ukraine, not affiliated with anything else. [5] Hypothesising that Ukraine could become an EU State, these militants might even join their forces with eurosceptic movements that take place inside the EU.

It was positive that both the EU and Russia engaged in discussions about Ukraine. However, as previously mentioned, the absence of an official Ukrainian representative left a feeling that this meeting was a discussion between regional powers. A round table negotiation between the Ukrainian opposition and the government with the presence of Russia and the EU would have sent a stronger signal of confidence. At the same time, the presence of the US was necessary since it played such an important role with Senator John McCain's visit at the Maidan square. [6] The US has also imposed visa restrictions on Ukrainian government officials. [7] However, the recent leak of the US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland's conversation with the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, have portrayed the USA as an instigator of troubles in Ukraine and created tensions with the EU. [8]

The solution can only come from Ukraine and the Ukrainians. The amnesty grated to the arrested protesters on the 14th of February could mean that an exit to the crisis could be on the way. [9] In regard to foreign states and entities mingling in Ukrainian affairs, the words of the American political scientist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, sound like a good advice. He tweeted “Needed for Ukraine: 3 compromises. 1) between Ukraine’s political parties, 2) a EU-Ukraine-Russia compromise, and 3) a US-Russia compromise”. [10]

[1] Russian bailout wins Ukraine economic respite but deepens political rift, December 17 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/17/us-ukraine-idUSBRE9BF11U20131217

Russia offers Ukraine major economic assistance, December 17 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25411118

Russia to lift restrictions on Ukrainian pipe imports - Ukrainian ministry, December 18 2013, http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/economic/182651.html

Ukraine-EU Deal to Entail Protective Measures – Putin, August 23 2013, http://en.ria.ru/politics/20130823/182920979/Ukraine-EU-Deal-to-Entail-Protective-Measures---Putin.html

[2] Opposition in Kiev votes against Customs Union plans,December 15 2013, http://en.itar-tass.com/world/711606

[3] UkrainiansBack in Street to Support E.U. Accord, November 30 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/world/europe/ukraine-protests.html

Ukraine passes sweeping law to crack down on protests, January 16 2014,http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/16/ukraine-sweeping-law-crack-down-protests

[4] Ukrainerape draws outrage over official impunity, July 21 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-rape-draws-outrage-over-official-impunity-063508747.html

Ukraine rape scandal victim Oksana Makar dies, March 22 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17546743

[5] Ukrainian far-right group claims to be co-ordinating violence in Kiev, January 23 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/23/ukrainian-far-right-groups-violence-kiev-pravy-sektor

[6] John McCaintells Ukraine protesters: 'We are here to support your just cause', December 152013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/15/john-mccain-ukraine-protests-support-just-cause

[7] USimposes Ukraine sanctions, EU voices 'worry', January 22 2013, http://euobserver.com/foreign/122829

[8] 'Fuck the EU': US diplomat Victoria Nuland's phonecall leaked - video, February 7 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/feb/07/eu-us-diplomat-victoria-nuland-phonecall-leaked-video

[9] All Detained UkrainianProtesters Released, February 14 2014, http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-detained-protesters-released/25264148.html

[10] Zbigniew Brzinski Twitter Account, February 7 2014, https://twitter.com/zbig/status/431888909677494272

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