A draft statement prepared for the summit of the Eastern Partnership in Riga (21-22 May) hints that the European Union will be implementing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Ukraine next year. The draft further reveals that both sides are committed to the agreement beginning on 1 January 2016, which is, however, already one year later than originally envisaged. This move is expected to antagonize Moscow, which sees this deal as an effort to move Ukraine out of Russia’s sphere of orbit and integrate it to the West.
The Kremlin is reportedly trying to postpone the deal by another year but Brussels says no further delay is possible. Although the EU said that it was ready to discuss Russian concerns, the implementation of the agreement “will be a top priority of the EU and the partners concerned for the coming years”, the draft said. The deal is a focal point of the tensions between Moscow and Brussels over many issues – the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, Western sanctions, and influence in Kiev.
Recent events have moreover revealed that the EU seems to be pushing Ukraine towards a trilateral free trade agreement with Russia, which is not a popular idea in Kiev. The political declaration accompanying the Minsk agreement also stipulated that Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia support trilateral talks between Brussels, Moscow and Kiev to discuss possible solutions to various concerns associated with the implementation of the DCFTA.
Such trilateral talks concerning the deal and its impact on the Russian economy took place at the end of April but did not end very well, as the Russian ambassador to the EU admitted. As a result, the EU’s engagement in other countries of the European Partnership is mostly limited and Brussels had to moderate its ambitions in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova out of fear of a broader conflict with Moscow.