President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych attended the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, still saying his country is not interested in joining the Eastern Partnership under current conditions. The European Union was unconvincing in its bid for a historic Association Agreement with Ukraine, even though, it says, it is the most ambitious ever offered to a non-EU state.
Yanukovych was still negotiating on Thursday’s eve of the summit, detailing that he needs to find 12.5 billion euros in the next 18 months to pay Ukraine’s gas and other debts, notably to Russia. He previously called an offer of 600 million euros of EU aid “humiliating”.
The European Council’s President Herman van Rompuy said it was not closing the door on the country of 46 million people but suggested that putting more money up front was out of the question.
Van Rompuy said: “We stand ready to sign with Ukraine once the benchmarks put forward by the EU are met, and we are really close. We may not miss this rendez-vous with history later on. We have to set aside short-term considerations and we have to overcome pressure from abroad.”
The Eastern Partnership plan’s foremost opponent is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has already managed to convince Armenia to join his Customs Union instead. Kyiv’s decision could break momentum for a long time.
Natalia Marshalkovitch spoke with analyst Tamara Gouzenkova – a specialist on problems in former Soviet countries and deputy head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in Moscow – from euronews headquarters in Lyon.
Natalia Marshalkovitch, euronews: “Why is Russia so against the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU?”
Tamara Gouzenkova, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies: “It is important to understand that Russia is not against the Association Accord between Ukraine and the EU. The complexities lie elsewhere – how to build relations with a country integrating with another union while it has quite close economic cooperative links with a country not integrating with the EU.
“Of course, Ukraine is in a complicated economic and financial position, and is very interested in favours from both sides. But that’s more or less impossible because the European free trade zone and the Customs Union with Russia are two different integration plans. Each has its own rules, demands and standards. That is why, if Ukraine is to join one of them it will have to choose which one. Not only the Customs Union has said that; the Europeans said it first.
“Perhaps Ukraine has to stop for a while and think seriously about how to establish relations with the east and the west at the same time, and how Ukraine, the EU and the Customs Union can come to an arrangement.”
euronews: “You talk about three-way relations… Do you think this is really possible, since Ukraine – with its geographic position – will always be a bone of contention between east and west, Moscow and Brussels. What will happen?”
Gouzenkova: “I think the Europeans and the Russians have to do everything they can so that Ukraine is not an obstacle, to let it gradually become part of the complex global processes that are taking place in relations between the east and west, between Russia and the EU. I think the Ukrainian authorities may have been in too much of a hurry. They did not adequately inform themselves of the pros and cons of this decision. In my opinion, the Europeans also tried to lure Ukraine into their court. They didn’t figure that Ukraine is very closely tied to the Eurasian Customs market, or simply they didn’t want to see it.
“Now there has to be a period of calm, without getting worked up, without mutual reproaches such as there are now – being relayed by both European and Russian media – to discuss this problem more calmly and find the time to sit down and negotiate, to think together how Ukraine, which is a very big country, can avoid bankruptcy, so it can choose the best way to develop geopolitically and economically.”