Valeriy Kucheruk on Ukraine

After a brief slackening, the representatives of the Russian Federation with a vengeance took to “forcing” Ukraine to change its vector of European integration into the pro-Russian one. It all started with the CIS Summit in Minsk, during which the Ukrainian side vigorously promoted the idea of the probable cooperation with the Customs Union after the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union. The Russian leadership related extremely negatively to the proposal. “No, impossible,” retorted President Vladimir Putin to the question of journalists about this potential course of events.

According to Mr Putin, the impossibility of Ukraine’s full-fledged cooperation with the Customs Union lies in the creation of the Free Trade Zone between Kyiv and the EU. The matter is that, at first, “Ukraine will have to set to zero approximately 7 thousand 666 tariffs out of ten thousand import customs tariffs, starting from the moment of the Agreement taking effect, which should already happen in February next year,” emphasized the Russian president. In three more years, according to his estimation, the opening of the market will be at the level of 85.5%, and in several more years – 98.5%. “This opening of the market is very dangerous and unacceptable for us at the current stage of the development of our economy”.

It should be remarked that, unlike his previous quite harsh assessments of Ukraine’s European prospects, in Minsk Vladimir Putin was demonstratively more diplomatic. In particular, he stated that Russia was not going to interfere with Ukraine’s process of European integration, having clarified that Moscow was not “either for or against it”. “It is absolutely none of our business, it is the sovereign right of the Ukrainian leadership in the person of the president, the parliament and the government,” he summarized.

Notably, despite of all the diplomatic efforts, the meeting of the Ukrainian and Russian presidents in the tete-a-tete format in Minsk did not occur: Mr Putin’s press-secretary informed that the presidents would be communicating within the framework of multilateral meetings, lunches and dinners. In the mean time, such a meeting took place a couple of days later (last Sunday) in Sochi, where, according to the information by the Ukrainian and Russian mass media, Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin spent about five hours talking in private. The details of this negotiation are kept very strict secret, but, in many experts’ opinion, Mr Putin for the last time tried to persuade Viktor Yanukovych to give up on signing the Association Agreement with the European Union in return for receiving considerable gas discounts, access for Ukrainian companies to the extraction of mineral resources on the territory of the Russian Federation and significantly cheap loans.

In the evening of the same day the delegations of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Russia headed by ministers Leonid Kozhara and Sergey Lavrov met in Rostov-on-Don. The Russian minister again warned his Ukrainian colleague that the Customs Union was preparing to raise duties for Ukrainian goods in case of the Association Agreement signature.

Meanwhile, as far back as on Tuesday it became clear that the negotiations both in Sochi and in Rostov-on-Don failed, at least – for the Russian side. In the morning the Kremlin’s propaganda machine started to operate with double efforts. At first, head of Gazprom, Alexey Miller, stated that Ukraine owed 882 million dollars for gas. As it turned out, the debt had been there since August but only now it had become especially painful for Gazprom. “This issue should be resolved. And it must be done immediately,” specified Mr Miller.

Then, advisor of the president of the Russian Federation, Sergey Glazyev, spoke out, having basically accused Ukraine of violating the agreement of friendship between Ukraine and Russia, signed in 1997 by Leonid Kuchma and Boris Yeltsin. According to Glazyev, Ukraine in this agreement had promised to have closer relations with Russia up to the creation of the Common Economic Space, and now it was breaking the given promise by signing the Association Agreement with the European Union. Simultaneously with Miller’s and Glazyev’s statements, minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, conceded that soon Ukrainians would be travelling to Russia exclusively with foreign passports. And the Russian national channels have launched the everyday series of short videos with the common name “Divorce in the Ukrainian way”. The aim of the project, as defined in the statement by the channel, – is to cause Moscow “to have a new look at Kyiv” and to cause Kyiv – to get to know the “absolutely different side of its new European friends”. The series broadcasting will last until the Vilnius Summit of Eastern Partnership. The peak of Russian activities has come to be setting up barbed wire entanglements in some areas of the Russian and Ukrainian border, which has already been written about on this site.

As can be seen, Russia finds it impossible to come to terms with the probability of Ukraine signing the Association Agreement with the EU and is pressurizing it tooth and nail. The following weeks will show if official Kyiv will manage to withstand this pressure and whether Europe will be able to assist it in the confrontation with the northern neighbor.


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