Ukraine’s decision to freeze all efforts towards signing the association agreement with the European Union at next week’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius has left most EU officials involved in the process “disappointed”.
Ukraine’s parliament rejected on November 21 a number of legislative bills put forth to meet EU’s requirements for signing the association agreement and, later in the day, the country’s cabinet said that it froze all efforts towards signing the agreement.
EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said in a statement that “this is a disappointment not just for the EU but, we believe, for the people of Ukraine.”
“The signing of the most ambitious agreement the EU has ever offered to a partner country would have further enhanced the reform course of Ukraine and sent a clear signal to investors worldwide as well as to international financial institutions that Ukraine is serious about its modernisation pledge and becoming a predictable and reliable interlocutor for international markets,” she said.
Adding insult to injury, the key votes in Ukraine’s parliament came even as the European Parliament’s mission to Kyiv, spearheaded by former European Parliament president Pat Cox and former Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski, was winding down.
“We express our deep disappointment at the unilateral decision of the Ukrainian Government to postpone the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union,” the duo said in a statement.
European enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele, who visited Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and delivered an address in parliament on the day before the key votes, said in a tweet: “Regret Kyiv’s decision to suspend preparations to sign #AssocAgreement, many opportunities for country&people will now be delayed.”
While some officials, including Cox and Kwasniewski in their statement, but also German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (in a tweet by the German foreign ministry), said that the door remained open, others cautioned that Ukraine’s decision may have far-reaching consequences.
“This decision may lead to its indefinite suspension and to irreversible losses in the process of modernisation, reform and democratisation that Ukraine needs so much today. There is a risk of losing what has been achieved as a result of long and difficult preparations to sign the Association Agreement,” Poland’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt have been two of the busiest European diplomats involved in the EU’s Eastern Partnership, repeatedly visiting former Soviet republics in recent years to foster closer ties with the EU.
Like other European officials, Bildt lay the blame at Kremlin’s feet, saying in a tweet: “Ukraine government suddenly bows deeply to the Kremlin. Politics of brutal pressure evidently works.” In another tweet later, he said: “Ukraine economy in decline. Will hardly help to turn away from EU reforms and towards Russia. Kills FDI prospects.”
In recent months, Russia has piled unprecedented pressure on former Soviet states to dissuade them from signing association agreements with the EU, offering them instead membership in the Moscow-led Customs Union, which the Kremlin envisions as the basis for a future Eurasian Union.
In September, Armenia became the first country to give in to the Kremlin’s pressure, now followed by Ukraine. Moldova, which is expected to initial its own association and free trade agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit, said that it had no plans to follow Ukraine’s suit.
Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said that Kyiv’s decision could complicate matters for Moldova, but the government in Chisinau remained committed to its pro-EU course.
(Left to right: President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. Photo: European Commission Audiovisual Service)