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EU-Ukraine relationship in limbo

February 7, 2012

Although EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso claimed on December 19 that the 15th Ukraine-EU Summit produced a “major step in [EU-Ukraine] relations,” the meeting in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych actually did not produce any meaningful developments in the relationship. The text of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was finalized, but the EU delegation refused to sign it, indicating they would wait at least until they witnessed the democratic process at work in Ukraine’s October 2012 parliamentary elections before taking any further action.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych with Jose Manuel Barroso at the 15th Ukraine-EU Summit in Kyiv. Photo by Gleb Garanich/Reuters.

The EU’s reticence to associate itself with Ukraine is justifiable. In recent years, the government of Viktor Yanukovych has shown its true colors: those of a corrupt regime whose practices are not those of the modern democratic administration it purports itself to be. While the October conviction of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of abuse of office has garnered the greatest attention from the international media, she is not the only former official from an opposition party to be imprisoned in the last few years. Several high-profile former colleagues of Tymoshenko were imprisoned in the year prior to her arrest on similar charges. Since Ukrainian law allows for pre-trial imprisonment to last up to 18 months, some of the arrestees, such as former acting defense minister Valeriy Ivashchenko and former Minister of the Interior Yuriy Lutsenko, have been in jail awaiting trial since late 2010.

Meanwhile, in the face of declining popularity, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions—which currently holds a majority of seats in the Ukrainian Parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) with a couple of smaller allied parties—has successfully altered Ukraine’s parliamentary election rules. While the new (and former) procedure is somewhat unusual, one notable rule change involves the ban of party blocs—salt in the wounds of Yulia Tymoshenko, who formed and led a bloc of smaller opposition parties in the previous parliamentary election that gave the Party of Regions its greatest challenge.

Integration with Ukraine has recently taken on a heightened sense of urgency due to the stated goals of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, still the heavy favorite to win the March presidential election in Russia despite a series of well-publicized opposition protests. Last October, Putin announced his intention to create a “Eurasian Union,” primarily among the countries of the former Soviet Union. While Putin claimed a Eurasian Union would not impede a member state’s integration with Europe—a statement clearly aimed at Ukraine—Russia’s support of Belarus, whose government is democratic in name only, might make exclusive alignment with Russia a more attractive option to the scheming and increasingly retributive Yanukovych camp. While the EU seems determined to wait for demonstrated good behavior from the Yanukovych administration before moving forward with Ukraine—a course of action that Tymoshenko herself notably disagrees with—the window of opportunity for Ukrainian integration may be closing in the near future.


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