Despite months of delays and false starts, it appears that the Association Agreement between Kyiv and Brussels will be executed before the end of the year. This achievement — which promises to draw Ukraine more deeply into the European orbit and offer the remaining countries of the former Soviet bloc a path forward — comes as a result of years of behind-the-scenes and for-the-cameras negotiations, tight-lipped exchanges, painful reforms by Ukraine, and the stalwart effort of both sides.
It also comes despite adamant — and it would appear, lucrative and covert — Russian opposition.
News reports of the last week have increasingly drawn ties between Russia’s external opposition to Ukraine’s closer ties with the European Union and a heavy-handed Russian effort to break the relationship behind the scenes. The Ukrainian publication Mirror Weekly has alleged that the messaging from Russian sources and retained public relations firms, conveyed to European capitals, has included these themes:
· prevent the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at all costs, and to make sure that it will never happen;
· kill any possibility of Ukraine’s transformation into “a shale gas Klondike” by all means;
· push Ukraine back from the Transdniestrian process;
· discredit the Ukrainian chairmanship of the OSCE, portraying Ukraine as a helpless, stupid, and incapable country at the international arena.
This comes as no great surprise. Germany’s opposition to Ukraine’s closer ties with Brussels, for example, lies not merely in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempts to pacify her left flank, but also through well-known efforts by Russian diplomatic sources to remind Merkel that her country relies on Russian natural gas — and with the foolhardy decision to forgo nuclear power, it is more reliant than ever. (This particular pressure sequence has seen repeated use for over a decade.)
Russia’s Customs Union — its vehicle for a reborn empire — is simply not possible without Ukraine. Without Ukraine’s industrial power, natural gas pipes, and 46 million citizens, not to mention the historic ties between Kyiv and Moscow, the Customs Union cannot be. This, Moscow cannot abide.
Yet for now, it must.
At a recent conference in Rome on the future of Ukraine-EU relations, insiders signaled that the Association Agreement is rapidly becoming all but inevitable. Former Italian Prime Minister and former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi remarked on Kyiv’s growing ties to Brussels. “Engagement, not isolation, is the way forward,” Mr. Prodi said. He also noted the importance of trade and energy security that Ukraine could provide, an important consideration as Europe struggles with so many dangers now. “Ukraine can become an important strategic partner of Europe and a geopolitical bridge between Russia and the EU,” he added.
Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski — as co-head of the European Parliament’s Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, at times a critic of Ukraine and also a pragmatic supporter of its closer ties to Europe — emphasized Kyiv’s recent election and criminal code reforms, and also pointed out that closer ties had recently spurred new commitments to further electoral and judicial reforms along European lines. To that end, he also praised Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s openness to pardoning Yury Lutsenko, the former Minister of Internal Affairs, whose conviction recently came under assault by the European Court of Human Rights.
The undercurrent to this and other recent events is the continuing Europeanization of Ukraine. In fits and starts, Ukraine is adopting the social and legal norms of a European country despite the terrible legacy of the Soviet Union, the dark days of the Kuchma regime, and the confusion of Viktor Yushchenko’s battles with Yulia Tymoshenko as the Orange Revolution devolved into in-fighting and battered and conflicted policy.
The Association Agreement is yet another tie that will bind Ukraine to Europe, another link that will, with any luck, draw the two sides closer together, and leave Russia more and more in a cold of its own making.
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