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Great expectations? – Errr No! (EU/Ukraine summit)

February 22, 2013

OK, having employed a Dickens title within this post title, I will now quote from a Tale of Two Cities – just to keep you Dickens fans on your toes.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

And so it is with Ukraine both domestically and further afield.

On 25th February, Ukraine and the EU have a summit.  Summits when they occur usually like to produce signed agreements to show they were worthwhile in the eyes of a usually disinterested or politics weary public who foot the bill for such events.

Signed agreements are a politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and occasionally diplomats way of apparently justifying such events to anybody who will listen.

So what of the EU/Ukraine summit?  Well if anything gets signed, it will be a case having “something” to sign – anything – so whist they disagree and make very little headway over these serious and complex issues, they did agree on these minor and irrelevant points- and signed an agreement to prove it – despite its irrelevance and despite such agreements would otherwise be signed by far lesser beings than Presidents.

This undoubtedly will be the case on 25th February – at least as far as signed agreements go.

Of far more significants, is what headway if any, will be made over the issues that are difficult (for one side or the other), that do have entrenched positions, and that have publicised those positions to the extent that there is very little wiggle room for any party in either  re-framing demands, or accepting some form of movement – but not quite enough.

Can we realistically have great expectations from the next EU/Ukrainian summit that will take relations forwards to the satisfaction of both sides?  I very much doubt it.

What I expect, aside from the signing of a few agreements of irrelevance, is the search for wiggle room on both sides in order to make some progress, possibly enough, to make the signing of the EU DCFTA and AA documents a reality in November.

Certainly there will not be anything like the significant movement to make ratification of those signed agreements possible this year or next – and even if there were – ratification is still unlikely due to elections in the European Parliament and Germany to name but two where the outcomes of which may have significant implications for ratification.

Ergo anybody with a modicum of sense will know that there will have been a presidential election in Ukraine in 2015 before ratification of this agreement even becomes close to reality, or another attempt to muster the political will on either side is found to try and sign it again – no matter what happens in Vilnius in November this year.

The question is then only whether Ukraine will stand firm against the ever increasing Russian pressure it is under.

Whatever diplomatic and political wriggle room remains, will be a precious thing indeed to both sides for this forthcoming encounter in preparation for November.  Look not to the fluff that may be signed, but the the efforts of the staff in the boiler rooms to expand and exploit any wiggle room within both entities as November moves ever closer.

How best to play the interests verses values matrix with such overt Russian pressure as a complicating factor?

Thus we must also watch the hand of the Kremlin as it attempts to win this geopolitical battle – if not by getting Ukraine to join the Customs Union, then by at the very least, forcing it to abandon the EU – or the EU to abandon Ukraine – temporarily or permanently.

Can enough wiggle room be found within the EU/Ukrainian camps to allow for signing if the specter of Moscow’s shadow looms too great – regardless of progress?

We will soon find out – but not on 25th February.

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