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EU partially initials Association Agreement with Ukraine

April 4, 2012

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, completed last December only to be left unsigned by both parties, was initialed last Friday by two low-level officials who didn’t even hold a press conference afterwards. The initialing—which must be followed by ratification procedures in the parliaments of Ukraine, the EU and all its member states—didn’t even cover the entire document, as parts of the agreement regarding the establishment of a DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area) in Ukraine remained unsigned.

As mentioned previously on this blog, the EU has talked tough with Ukraine over the past few months, claiming it would not proceed with the Association Agreement until certain political figures were released from prison and democratic improvements were observed in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The EU held off on the agreement for months despite repeated calls from the Ukrainian opposition to proceed. So why now? And why so quietly?

It’s understandable that the EU would want to keep this event as under-the-radar as possible. After consistently chastising Ukrainian leaders ever since Yulia Tymoshenko’s conviction last fall, repeatedly declaring various criminal cases to be politically motivated, there was no way the EU could have turned this into a big event without looking foolish.

As for ‘why now,’ that the agreement was initialed just 11 days after the Eurasian Union summit in Moscow speaks volumes about the EU’s motivations. At least one European Commission spokesperson admitted as much, claiming that “keeping the momentum” with Ukraine was a primary concern. Although he did not commit to the Eurasian Union—Russia’s pet project—Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was present at the summit in Moscow. By simply flirting with Russia, he enticed the EU into giving him what he wanted months ahead of schedule, and in the way he wanted it as well.

Approximately two months ago, I wrote a policy brief for the EU Center at Indiana University that should soon be available on the Center’s website (link to follow), arguing that it would be in the EU’s best interest to move forward with the Association Agreement as soon as possible. Initialing the agreement back in February (or even earlier), without prompting, might have turned the tables on Yanukovych, increasing pressure from within Ukraine to not screw things up with the EU. However, the events of the past two weeks have demonstrated who’s really in control here, and it’s definitely not Brussels.

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