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European Union Takes Ukraine and Leaves Ukrainians on Doorstep

Translated Wednesday 27 May 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

Their last meeting two years ago stirred up a hornet’s nest in Ukraine. The Eastern partnership between the EU and six East European countries is back on the negotiating table on May 21-22 because an association agreement was concluded on the sly in Spring 2014 between Ukraine and the European Union. Europe’s goal: economic and political rapprochement, but no EU membership. Explanations.

Riga is hosting the fourth summit of the Eastern partnership. Due to the revolving EU presidency, Lithuania is heading the European Council for six months and is the scene of the first meeting between the 28 member states and the six countries of the Eastern partnership (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldavia, Ukraine and Belarus) since the signature of the association agreement in Spring 2014 [1] with Ukraine.

For the European Union, these meetings, which began in May 2009 at the European summit in Prague, have a clear goal: “an economic and political rapprochement but without membership” a member of the European Commission repeated.

The last EU-Eastern partnership summit, which was held in Vilnius in November 2013, marked the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis.

It was on that occasion that Victor Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president, refused to sign an association agreement with the EU, preferring to join the Russian customs union. Vladimir Putin had attributed a central position in his Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to Ukraine and he even imagined possible agreements between the two organizations. However, the protests, Yanukovich’s errors, and the involvement of the United States and the EU plunged the Ukraine into an unprecedented crisis.

“Europe’s clearly chosen one camp and has broken off the dialogue with Russia, without ever having reflected on the consequences. Worse yet, in the name of democracy, on the sly they’ve signed accords with a government whose legitimacy for such commitments is open to doubt. Why didn’t they propose a referendum, because the text concerns the future of Ukraine and its citizens?” says Elena Chaltseva, who teaches at the university in Donetsk.

Brussels-style shock therapy.

The association agreement with Europe, which includes important reforms, is supposed to enter into force in 2016. In exchange for association, Ukraine is abandoning the export of many, principally industrial (air and sea), products and of raw materials (coal) to the Russian market and will lose preferential contracts (natural gas and oil…). Since then, the country has chalked up a 17.6% fall in its gross domestic product over the one-year period to the end of the first quarter of 2015. The value of its currency, the hryvnia, has fallen by 70% since November 2013. But the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) remains confident.

If the Ukrainian rulers adopt the reforms set by the United States and Europe in exchange for financial aid, the EBRD “hopes” for a return to 3% growth in 2016. The International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission want budget cuts, privatization of public-sector companies, notably in the energy sector, and an increase in the retirement age and a wage freeze in exchange for 25 billion dollars in aid.

On the European side, nobody favors an end to visas for Ukrainians, which makes EU membership doubtful…

For the Russian authorities, the eastward enlargement of the European Union is systematically accompanied by NATO membership, and the Eastern partnership is mainly aimed at former Soviet republics which are in the Russian sphere of influence: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine.

“Shouldn’t good political sense have dictated to the EU not only to try and at least to explore, with all the required prudence, the possibility of cooperation between the two organizations that was advanced by Moscow, but also to answer the concrete questions asked by Russia about the impact of the signature of the Kiev-EU association agreement on Russian-Ukrainian economic relations? Neither of the two actions was seriously undertaken, reinforcing Russia’s determination to prevent Kiev from signing the association agreement,” such is the analysis offered by Isabelle Facon, a researcher for the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS).

Leaving the population to believe and to hope.

But the recent meetings between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and between François Hollande and Petro Poroshenko in Aachen do not permit one to envisage a change in attitude. “Alas, the Ukrainians see in this a hope for rapid EU membership and a better standard of living. And yet, on the European side, it’s enough to see that nobody favors an end to visas for Ukrainians and Georgians, for one to have doubts about EU membership,” says Elena Chaltseva.

As for the Russian authorities, they consider the Eastern partnership as “a springboard to ‘natural’ NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, all the more so as this initiative, a bit by default, has largely been piloted by Poland and Sweden. This has reinforced Moscow’s hostility, which is convinced that these two countries, for historical reasons, are trying to use the EU partnership policy to limit Russia’s geopolitical influence among its neighbors,” Isabelle Facon notes.

The Kiev Government Turns Away from Democracy

Poroshenko has decided to celebrate his first year at the head of Ukraine by outlawing the Communist Party, which he sees as guilty of crimes against humanity.

One year after his victory, Petro Poroshenko and his government, directed by Arseni Yatsenyuk, have underwhelming results to show. Increased division, corruption still every bit as widespread, no tangible peace in the East, an economy in a dead end, and the renewal of social grumbling: Will the president last another year? And yet, on succeeding Victor Yanukovich, in the post-Maidan context, Poroshenko had a considerable margin. But now Ukrainians are twice shy, having been bitten by unkept promises.

“Ten years after the orange revolution, Ukrainians don’t want to experience the same failure,” is the analysis offered by Elena Chaltseva, a teacher at the university in Donetsk.

Faced with these problems, Petro Poroshenko has decided to follow an authoritarian line in order to stay in power: No negotiations with the Lugansk and Donetsk republics in the Donbas on a special status, impoverishment of workers, and outlawing of the Ukrainian Communist Party.

The president signed the parliamentary law on May 14 and declared that “the time has come to clean Ukraine of any trace of its communist past” which “exterminated millions of people.” Once again, the president assimilated the acts of violence by the communist regime in the Ukraine with “crimes against humanity” committed in Buchenwald and Babi Yar.

For deputy Eugene Tsarkov of the Ukrainian Communist Party, “it’s a matter of rewriting history to the benefit of Ukrainian fascist and nationalist forces like Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The latter were tried as war criminals because they collaborated with the Nazis.”

But for this deputy, who is still confident about appealing in court against the law before having to go underground, the measure above all reveals “a desire to break one of the last social and political oppositions in the country. We remain embedded throughout the country because unlike other parties, we aren’t dependent on business circles, which is what led to the disappearance of the Party of Regions.”

[1The association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union was signed twice. The political component was signed on March 21, 2014, by the post-Maidan provisional government. Only the economic component was voted on after Poroshenko’s election, on June 27, 2014.

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