On the 27th of June this year, Ukraine (and Georgia and Moldova) signed the Association Agreement with the European Union, to govern policy convergence and later trade. Its supporters see it as setting the seal on a new era of east-west relations.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko highlighted the solemnity of the moment, smiling broadly: “I will sign the Association Agreement by this pen, which mentions EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, Vilnius, 29th November. It did not happen then, but the pen is the same, demonstrating that historic events are unavoidable.”
The 29th of November last year is when Poroshenko’s predecessor Viktor Yanukovich went to the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius even though he had just pulled a u-turn on his commitment to clinch the association deal — which he and his government had been negotiating favourably toward since 2007.
Yanukovich didn’t close the door on the EU but he privileged Russia, saying: “All we have to do to is to build normal relations between the EU, Ukraine and Russia. That’s our duty.”
Russia had been lobbying Yanukovich, offering irresistible incentives, for months leading up to that. President Vladimir Putin has a customs union with former soviet republics and wouldn’t tolerate Ukraine not coming on board.
When Yanukovich reneged on the EU move, ordinary Ukrainians mobilised in mass protest. The occupation of Maydan Square in central Kyiv would descend into open battle. The killing of civilians by shadowy forces would accompany the fall of the Yanukovich regime, which further aroused Russia.
The EU also kept the door open for association. Ukraine borders four EU states, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, is rich in agriculture and other notably minable natural resources, and is a market of more than 40 million people.
The aims of the accord now in place include ambitions for a one billion-euro increase in Ukrainian exports to the bloc and a boost of its annual production by one percent.
The agro-food and textile sectors are seen as likely to benefit from this the most at first, through modernisation and the improvement of working conditions. However, the accord partly brought along through Russian actions is only to be implemented as of 2016.