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European Parliament Declaration on

Ukraine: Has Yanukovych’s victory


panicked Brussels into actually doing
something?
Jonathan Hibberd Unpublished piece written 26th February 2010

The EU has woken up, or so it seems. It’s no secret to people here that Europe has
been steadily losing influence in Ukraine over the past couple of years, and
Yanukovych’s victory may in part be attributed to Ukrainians feeling they had
nothing to lose by moving eastwards again. Brussels was perhaps hoping that they
could rely on ‘orange’ politicians to bumble on without burning their European
bridges. Well not any more, unless Yanukovych is taking a clever and calculated
gamble.

The European Parliament’s 25th February resolution on Ukraine was for pro-
Europeans here the most encouraging noise to come out of the EU for some time.
Experts have often pointed to Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty which seemingly
enshrines the right of any European country, provided it fulfils the Union’s criteria,
to apply for membership as reason to give Ukraine hope, but in practice Brussels
representatives have often ducked the issue (or simply pointed out that Ukraine had
not fulfilled the terms of previous EU-Ukraine agreements). The Strasbourg-based
parliament is not the primary driver of EU policy, but it is far from being the easily-
ignored talking shop of a few years ago. They have real power to put issues on the
agenda. The process towards being granted a ‘membership perspective’ (in EU
parlance, a clear signal to begin the lengthy accession process) may not be granted
quickly, but the continued legitimisation of the issue builds up over time, as can be
seen in the cases of the Balkans and Turkey.

Contrast this with the vague statements made in the May 2009 preamble of the
Eastern Partnership, which sought even to avoid the phrase ‘European countries’ in
reference to the 6 former Soviet states that sit between the EU and Russian
Federation, for fear of raising membership hopes, with references to visa facilitation
also watered down. Last week’s mention in the EP resolution of a ‘road map’ with
the end objective of visa-free travel to the EU looks like quite a turnaround from
what we’ve seen previously. Suddenly the EU has realised it will actually have to do
something to keep Ukraine strung along.

As for the Copenhagen Criteria for accession, with the basic requirements that the
applicant is a democracy, has a functioning market economy, respects minorities
and the rule of law, Ukraine is much closer to these than it was a few years ago.
NGO Freedom House now rates Ukraine as a ‘free democracy’ (in contrast to Russia
which is in the third category of ‘unfree’, or current candidate Turkey which has the
status of ‘partly free’) and accession to the WTO is evidence of market economy
status, leaving rule of law as the most obvious Achilles’ heel.

Even if the end objective of EU membership were not actually achieved, the
accession process would be far from pointless. An association agreement and deep
free trade agreement would provide many of the benefits of EU membership, and
we could expect at least incremental progress in the areas of economic reform,
good governance and maybe even rule of law. One only has to look at the current
situation in Turkey, where the military is now on the back foot as democratically-
elected forces strengthen their mandate. Insiders say that even the free trade
agreement currently in prospect would give Ukraine something approaching
European Economic Area status, which would be hugely beneficial to Ukraine.

However, on two issues a great deal stands to be lost before we ever get to that
point. Of the country’s leading politicians, only Mr. Tihipko has stated what many
ordinary Ukrainians fail to understand, that Yanukovych’s stated aim of entering
into the Eurasian economic space and customs union with Russia, Belarus and
Kazakhstan may all but end the European dream. The EU’s economic acquis will
almost certainly be incompatible with the Eurasian model (not to speak of its
business practices). As Tihipko points out, Ukraine would potentially be giving up a
great deal for very little gained. Russia’s resource-driven economic growth owes
little to trade liberalization or economic integration.

If one can attribute such tactical brilliance to the man, Yanukovych may have
cottoned on to the trick that Belarussian leader Aleksander Lukashenka has been
using for some time, of realising that there is great play to be made from playing off
the east and the west against each other for his country’s own benefit, as can be
seen in energy deals struck with Russia and a degree of political thaw with the EU.
The position of the 6 Eastern Partnership states has been compared with Yugoslavia
under Tito, stuck on a pendulum destined to swing between east and west. Whereas
five years ago it swung westwards, the Yanukovych victory only confirms a swing to
the east that has been in the air for some time. But the country is likely to keep
swinging back and forth unless one side or the other comes up with a trump card,
and gas could be that card.

The joint ownership plans for Ukraine’s gas network should be treated with extreme
wariness. Firstly, the EU as such cannot buy pipelines, so the ‘EU share’ of this part
ownership plan would, we can expect, be with a private company in a member
state. On the Russian side, Gazprom is the only show in town. What is more, many
energy companies in Europe have or are forming closer and closer links with
Gazprom. Therefore Ukraine risks being sidelined by the ‘EU’ share being put in the
hands of a company that would prioritise its relations with Gazprom over the
interests of Ukraine. Or worse, what is to stop Gazprom simply buying up the ‘EU’
share as well, and then where would we be? When Armenia built a pipeline south to
Iran in order to diversify supply, Gazprom simply bought the pipeline. Ukraine’s gas
problem is not that of losing transit provider status, but of worsening conditions for
its heavy industry and its citizenry. As a report by London-based think tank The
European Council on Foreign Relations said last year ‘countries can do without IKEA,
but they can’t do without gas’. The EU should indeed wake up, or it could be ‘game
over’ for them in Ukraine.

Jonathan Hibberd is a recently completed post- graduate studies at Sussex


European Institute in the UK and has carried out research into questions of
Ukraine’s European integration and the country’s relationship with NATO.