Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit and Ukraine’s Geopolitical Quagmire

Written by | Sunday, December 1st, 2013

As the Eastern Partnership summit opened in Vilnius yesterday (28 November), the European Union made a last-ditch attempt to salvage a historic Association Agreement (AA) with Ukraine – but this was to no avail as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich reiterated his position that a deal could not be signed in the foreseeable future. The EU side, on the other hand, rejected Kiev’s proposal to launch tripartite talks with Russia as a no-go.
Representatives of all EU countries are meeting in Vilnius with leaders of the six Eastern Partnership countries – Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Association Agreement, coupled with a Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Agreement (DCFTA), is widely seen as an important step leading to the anchoring of the former Soviet state to the European Union.
Under intense pressure from Moscow, last week, Yanukovich relinquished plans to sign the agreement while expressing his country’s desire to maintain closer ties with Russia. Yanukovich reportedly fears that Ukraine’s finances would rapidly dry up if it decides to sign the Association Agreement, pushing the country to the brink of default, as Russia would retaliate by closing its borders to Ukrainian exports.
No statement was issued following the meeting of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy with Yanukovich, but well informed sources say that the strategy was to keep the door open to the Ukrainian president as long as possible. With Yanukovich affirming his position in Vilnius, EU diplomats were bound to earlier principles, meaning they would not imitate Russia in bribing Yanukovich with money. In particular, the EU officials made clear to the Ukrainian president that his proposal for tripartite talks with Russia on trade issues was completely unacceptable – as an EU diplomat explained, “We cannot give Moscow the right of veto in EU affairs.” Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president, who faces massive pro-EU protests over his geostrategic U-turn at home, appeared anxious to keep up his pro-European rhetoric, saying his country would sign the AA at a later stage.

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