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Delayed agreements – How big the cost in political capital for Poroshenko?

September 13, 2014

Having eventually realised that Ukraine was not going to win any war in its east without significant economic and human cost after the Russian military was overtly sent over the border to bolster a failing war against Kyiv by Kremlin backed proxies, President Poroshenko has tried to turn peacemaker.

The cost of that decision is yet to be known with regard to his political capital and the good will evident in his May election.  After Crimea, any concessions to The Kremlin will have a political cost.

Having ousted one extremely corrupt president this year, the Ukrainian public do not seem at all sympathetic to the idea of allowing de facto control by yet another rampantly corrupt machine – particularly  that runs within the Kremlin.

Ergo whilst President Poroshenko has limited room for maneuver when striking any peace that will be acceptable to the Ukrainian constituency, President Putin, who will no doubt have been underwhelmed by the support in eastern Ukraine of the locals to fight against Kyiv, will now know any significant stretch beyond what is currently under his de facto control in the east will bring with it serious issues of control and policing that would undoubtedly result in a far bigger conventional and very bloody war, followed by a partisan war in any areas that were taken.  That may yet be the result in the Donbas depending upon any settlement.

Few good options in the east for anybody, as was always going to be the case – especially so if the western world keeps its sanctions on Russia running, doing continual damage over time.  Whether they will or not – time will tell.

Of course the Kremlin and Russian business can head to China for financing and FDI, but China works only for its own interests.  With all the numbers on the side of China, it would be the side that negotiates from a position of strength and interests, whilst Russia would be negotiating from a position of weakness and needs.  A grim future for a Kremlin that has genetic psychological issues about not being dealt with as an equal – even when it’s not an equal.

However, despite all the YES Conference wax lyrical talk about the EU in Kyiv these past two days, the mutual ratification of the EU-Ukraine AA and DCFTA on 16th September is not going to amount to as much as it could have.

Whilst the ratification may bring the AA section into effect from the 1st November, the DCFTA section will now no longer come into effect on that date.  It has been delayed until 31st December 2015 – 15 months from now before it fully enters into effect.  In the meantime, the existing CIS trade agreements between Russian and Ukraine will continue during this period.

That CIS continuation despite the CIS effectively becomes the EurAsian Union with effect from 1st January 2015, and despite the fact that any ratified document then becomes more difficult to amend – and several EU Member States have already ratified the AA/DCFTA with Ukraine.

Now it has to be said, most of the Ukrainian public have a far greater interest in the political Association Agreement, the frameworks and internationally binding contract to implement them by Ukraine, forcing it to become a consolidated democracy run by rule of law with a free media etc, than they have interest with regard which nations the country trades with.

Tens of thousands of people did not attend EuroMaidan for months to argue over who bought Ukrainian coal or steel.  They didn’t go to join the EU or the EurAsian Union.  They went for the (perhaps Utopian) ideals of forever implanting and consolidating a full and robust democratic State regardless of the feckless Ukrainian political class.  A Periclean democratic moment was upon them.

As such the wording of this communique is important.

“To be able to fully support the stabilisation of Ukraine, the Commission is ready, in the event that Ukraine ratifies the Association Agreement with the EU, to propose additional flexibility. Such flexibility will consist in delaying until 31 December 2015 the provisional application of the DCFTA while continuing autonomous trade measures of the EU to the benefit of Ukraine during this period.”

Clearly on 16th September, the political and democracy building Association Agreement is to be ratified and thus come into effect, binding Ukraine legally to an international and regional instrument to fulfill the democratic steps within – the ideals that Ukrainian people want for themselves, rather than The Kremlin alternative suppressing anything like democracy in Russia.

Issues regarding the DCFTA and CIS trade agreements to be thrashed out over the next 15 months, the results of which then coming into effect 1st January 2016.

So how will this be perceived by the vast majority of the Ukrainian constituency that has long since left The Kremlin fold?

Much will depend upon just how well it is made extremely clear that those values Ukrainian citizens froze and died for when ousting the Yanukovych regime, have indeed been firmly, legally and irrefutably come into force with the EU, and just how cleanly and vividly the trade issues can be separated in the public psyche.

(Yes way back on 6th November 2011, this very situation of separating the agreements was first muted – and several times since, when it became clear – not that it was ever in doubt – that The Kremlin would up the ante, before it actually did up the ante.  Is it fair to say, “Told you so, way back in 2011 – and several times since”?  Probably no less fair than mentioning my public spat in a European journal with EU Commissioner Stefan Fule in 2012, when stating that Ukraine was destined to become a geopolitical battle – a comment that drew sharp criticism from him, classing my comments as “unhelpful“.  Unhelpful or not, who was right?)

So, can President Poroshenko and team manage to persuade the Ukrainian public that the political democracy building Association Agreement they care far more about than who buys what as long as it’s bought, is not yet another stalling of the Ukrainian political class when it comes to delivering the aspirations of the nation – or will the delay of full agreements implementation until 31st December 2015 have a tremendous political cost prior to the RADA elections on 26th October?

As with all things, it is not what is said, but what is heard that matters – or in the case of the linked EU communique above, it is not what is read, but what is read properly that matters.

One suspects there need now be some serious and repeated clarification made both pre and post Association Agreement ratification – by both Ukraine and the EU – to drive home just what comes into immediate effect and what doesn’t, for the Ukrainian constituency prior to election day.

Political capital is easily spent in such turbulent times – better not to waste it unnecessarily.

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