Archive for August 8th, 2013

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Signing the AA and DCFTA – or not – What then, and from whom?

August 8, 2013

A few days ago I wrote this relating to Russia’s latest back-door sanction on Ukraine in order to display its ire regarding what are obviously quite serious attempts to reach a point allowing facilitation of the signing of the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement between the EU and Ukraine.

I concluded that entry stating “Naturally, should Ukraine and the EU sign the agreement in November, Russian vengeance via such methods is very likely to follow this tactic – repeatedly – and across all business sectors.  A pick “n” mix scattering of temporary but possibly prolonged back-door sanctions.

The question is therefore whether Ukraine is prepared cope with that inevitable consequence?

The Vilnius Summit, whether it leads to a signed agreement or not, is no panacea for Ukraine.  When it comes to the meeting in Lithuania, some Ukrainian thought should be focusing on what happens “the morning after the night before”.”

It is perhaps therefore worthy of a little speculation as to what reactions may come from the Kremlin and the EU in response to any signing – or not – as reactions either way there will be, directed at Ukraine.

As I stated, the signing of this agreement should it occur, is no panacea for Ukraine.  A lot of hard work, effective implementation and hard choices will still need to be made to move matters from the signing of this agreement to ratification by the Member States.  That will take a number of years even if unified and determined political will formulates across the entirety of the Ukrainian political class – and anybody will any knowledge of the political class of Ukraine will be well aware that it will pick and choose what to implement and what to drag its feet over, regardless of who is in power.

Regardless, what happens at the Vilnius Summit is going to close chapters and open others as far as Ukraine is concerned – as well as for the EU and Russia for whom Ukraine remains a geopolitical battlefield .

If the agreements are signed, it is effectively the final whistle with regards to Russian attempts to get Ukraine to join the Customs Union/Eurasian Union.  Russia will have lost that battle both tangibly and psychologically.

Revenge through all possible avenues is likely to come sporadically, pointedly and repeatedly, in what will be nothing more than thinly veiled unofficial sanctions no different to the current Roshen affair.

In this scenario it has to be hoped that the EU will step up to the plate and actively set about accrediting Ukrainian products to EU standards in a swift and systemic manner to try and mitigate the effects of Russian reactionary policy.

To be clear, many Ukrainian products do and would meet EU standards, yet the ease of getting accreditation – not to mention cost – is prohibitive, particularly to SMEs.

Sadly there are no visible signs emanating from the Delegation of the EU in Ukraine to even attempt to organise such an accreditiation contingency that I am aware of.

Nevertheless, with the Association Agreement allowing unprecedented EU meddling in the governance of a non-EU nation,  and the DCFTA providing a solid and legally binding business, trade and standards framework, the signing of these agreements could not be more publicly damaging to the Russian alternative if it tried.

It would – and I choose the word “direction” very carefully – be a very robust declaration of Ukrainian intent with regard to future orientation.  Russian leverage in Ukrainian affairs would begin to lessen – eventually considerably.

However, if the agreement is not signed, there would be no prizes for guessing that Russian influence within Ukraine will dramatically ramp up.  The EU would be seen by many Ukrainians as having given up on them – and it is a society not prone to giving second chances.

The EaP will crumble without Ukraine – not only from losing the largest, most populated nation, but also from a lack of political will within the EU to engage with nations less progressed along negotiation routes such as Georgia and Armenia.  Azerbaijan has already made it clear it has no real interest in the EaP, and Transnistria and the frozen conflict within Moldova is an incredibly large hurdle to overcome with regards to European integration as far as the Moldavian and EU authorities are concerned.

From an EU perspective – why waste further political time and political will on a region determined to create its own barriers to progress?

The choice then for Yanukovych is to fold and go “all-in” with the Russian Eurasian Union/Customs Union, or try to go it alone which will inevitably lead to a situation similar to that of Belarus, with an absolute authoritarian regime continually trying to play the EU off against the Customs Union – sometimes getting it right and other times completely wrong.

The key to that decision is whether Yanukovych believes sufficient domestically produced Ukrainian energy will come on line – or not – in a realistic time frame to support a strategy of independent authoritarianism or whether to cede the Ukrainian GTS (as did Belarus) in order to have tacit support from the Kremlin whilst consolidating a robust authoritarian regime.

At this point the EU has lost all leverage.

It is at this point the EU will rue its most consistent and noticeable failure in Ukraine – a failure I have written about many times – to reach out directly to the Ukrainian population rather than simply pumping money into civil society in the hope it may get a message across (if it can puncture the insulated bubble it operates within) – which thus far it quite simply hasn’t managed to do.

Having failed to directly engage with the Ukrainian population who, like many EU citizens themselves, no longer see the attractions of the EU as obvious, the EU will have to be prepared to watch Ukraine disappear over the horizon once more, until a time where the 20 somethings who “get it” when it comes to the EU, are the majority and not the minority of the electorate, and can generate a societal thrust to point direction firmly back towards the EU – if the EU still exists by then in any recognisable form compared with today.

Having written all that, it does seem somewhat dramatic – and it may be that what I have written in either scenario will prove to be wrong – and yet having lived here for more than a decade as a foreigner watching policy and politics, I see no other realistic outcomes when looking past the Vilnius Summit in November in the short or medium term.

The chances of the agreements not getting signed and yet Ukraine continuing down a democratic reform path with the political will to do more than provide a hollow version of what could and should have been are very slim indeed.

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