Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday, the European Union’s lead ambassador to Ukraine offered some cheering thoughts to Ukraine’s political establishment, who have sacrificed a great deal to advance Ukraine’s movement to the West in advance of the parliamentary elections in ten days.
Jan Tombinski, who only last month took office and who is usually seen as a cautious figure, was surprisingly adamant that the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU must go forward. “Very thorough technical work on this document is being carried out, 24 texts of the Agreement are being prepared,” he said.
The Association Agreement is essentially a treaty that outlines political, economic, and social cooperation conditions between the EU and a potential member state. It is one of the major hurdles a nation-state must clear for EU membership, and as such must be ratified by all EU member states.
Although the question of ratification remains uncertain in Europe and even in Ukraine — a fact Tombinski admitted — he noted that the Agreement is being translated into the languages of the several member states for consideration and ratification. “We hope to finish this work by the end of this year, possibly by the end of November,” he said. “Before the EU countries make a decision, [they should be sure that] all necessary political elements are present, so that they had no doubt that Ukraine is eager to move towards the association with the EU. All of the necessary political criteria have to be fulfilled,” he added.
Turning to the calls for sanctions — a highly unlikely issue but one that the European left has been pushing — he was adamant that these were a bad idea. “I think that both Ukraine and the European Union deserve a better future,” he said flatly.
“Sanctions can be introduced easily, but it is difficult to cancel them. There should be [good] reasons for their introduction.”
Tombinski also gave a largely positive review of Ukraine’s protections for freedom of speech, which have lately come under a withering assault from Western nations — an assault that seems odd to those who watch Opposition politicians on every major political talk show with regularity. “Considering what I have seen here, I can say that there is no censorship and there is complete freedom of self-expression in Ukraine,” he said.
He did not completely spare the country’s political dialogue — a problem both the Government and the Opposition recognize — characterizing speech as free but not particularly edifying, as both sides are more intent on voter turnout than voter education in advance of the elections in ten days.
The value of the entire press conference is difficult to overstate — a fact that Foreign Minister Konstantyn Gryshchenko clearly recognized, seizing on the remarks as an opportunity to expand on the “win-win” nature, as he described it, of a partnership between the EU and Ukraine. Tombinski’s remarks not only legitimize domestically the hard road that President Viktor Yanukovych, like his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, forged toward Europe and away from Russia in advance of the upcoming elections, they also serve as a carrot for Kyiv where Brussels — and Berlin — have been much more inclined to give the stick.
Ukraine faces the hard choice of a great deal of pain with Europe in the near future (and a brighter long term future for it) or an easier short term with Russia (and cold, hard days as far as the eye can see afterward). With opinion polling in the country shifting to a more favorable view of Russia and a less favorable view of the European Union, it was vital for Yanukovych and those leaders determined to bring the country to Europe that they see some reward for the hard times ahead.
The next moves are up to the EU member states, and one can reasonably expect German Chancellor Angela Merkel to shore up her left flank as she works to undermine the Agreement. Nevertheless, for a little while, there is hope for that win-win future. Let us hope leaders on both sides of the table continue to see it as such.