After Brussels, Status of Ukraine-EU Pact Still Unclear

February 27, 2013
Anthony T. Salvia
Director, American Institute in Ukraine

The Ukraine-European Union summit has come and gone, and the prospects of Brussels signing and ratifying an Association Agreement with Kiev remain as murky as ever.

Echoing statements EU officials had already made in the weeks preceding the summit, the final communiqué sets forth conditions for the successful conclusion of the agreement:

Ukraine must undertake “determined action” and make “tangible progress” towards bolstering the rule of law, reforming its electoral system, and adopting European standards in a variety of areas (energy policy, the fostering of a more salubrious business climate, and the like)

It’s a tall order, and Brussels wants Kiev to accomplish it all by May of this year – that is to say, three months from now. Will it? Can it?

Some commentators question Kiev’s ability to comply with Europe’s demands. Polish foreign affairs specialist, Adam Balcer of the Centre for European Strategy, Warsaw, believes the murder charge against Mrs. Timoshenko will remain a stumbling block:

“If she is not released, it is hard to imagine certain European states that are very strict on human rights principles changing their position.”

One such state is Germany. Rebecca Harms, Member of the European Parliament from Germany, and co-president of the Green faction, said the Yanukovich administration is “frittering away” Ukraine’s chance for signing the Association Agreement.

"Instead of strengthening the rule of law,” she said, “the situation is deteriorating.” Referring to the new charges against Mrs. Timoshenko, she declared:

“Under these conditions, the EU clearly cannot conclude an association agreement with Ukraine."

The prestigious news weekly, The Economist, calls Brussels’ expectation of significant Ukrainian reforms by May “highly unrealistic,” and says if Europe were to sign the agreement in the absence of reforms, this would “constitute a major renunciation of the [EU’s] principles and the very idea that it can set conditions for co-operation.”

The Economist goes on to point out, however, that Viktor Yanukovich “appears determined to call Europe’s bluff” in the belief Brussels will back off on its reform demands rather than see Kiev move closer to the Moscow-sponsored Eurasian Customs Union.

The magazine says Yanukovich “may be right, but only because there is the option of signing the agreement and then not ratifying it until certain conditions are met.”

At a recent roundtable discussion in Kiev organized by the American Institute in Ukraine, the consensus view emerged that this could well be the final result – signature, followed by a ratification procedure of uncertain outcome.

As for the Ukrainian opposition, it wants to proceed with the Association Agreement (even as its titular leader, Mrs. Timoshenko, continues to languish in prison), on grounds that, in The Economist’s words, “he [i.e., Yanukovich] will not be in power forever.” In other words, why let human rights and democracy get in the way of dealing a blow to Moscow now that we have the chance?

Arseniy Yatseniuk has made the point that European values are more important to Ukraine than Russian gas. To use his precise words: “Нам нужны не цены на газ. Нам нужны ценности.”

Last week, Ukraine received a reminder of what Europe means by “values” these days.

The NGO Human Rights Watch slammed legislation pending in the Verkhovna Rada that would, among other things, ban the production, publication or distribution of materials that promote homosexuality, and urged the European Union to insist that the Yanukovich administration speak out against this legislation, condemn homophobia, and provide protection for participants at events designed to promote lesbian, gay and transgender practices.

So much for democracy, freedom of speech, and the right to protect traditional moral values. Today, Western values have little to do with "democracy," and a great deal to do with progressive ideology.

Will Europe overlook Ukraine’s shortcomings and sign the Association Agreement anyway, the better to advance its economic interests in Ukraine, demonstrate the continued vitality of the European project (against all evidence), and uphold the inevitability of the Euro-Atlantic orientation of former Soviet republics, and, best of all, deal a sharp blow to Moscow?

Or will Europe do the noble thing and stand for what’s left of its democratic values? Will it insist that Ukraine take meaningful steps to conform to its moral standards before allowing it to inch any closer?

Time will tell, and we will know fairly soon.