Together with the appointment of the new leadership in the EU, high on the political agenda of the two-day EU summit (26-27th June) is Ukraine. A buzzword that stands in the international media environment for many things currently: sanctions on Russia, European security architecture, unprecedented civil society uprisings, EU energy diversification projects, Russia-sponsored terrorism and many other matters.
When back in November 2013 a “mere” pile of papers under the name Association Agreement had not been signed nobody could have predicted such a sequence of events. Now Maidan, Crimea, Donbas, AA are concepts known not only within insider circles, but provide food for thought for the broader audience worldwide. Back then, this failure to find common grounds and sign this document was labeled by many experts as the beginning of the end of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) project which did not make much sense without Ukraine. Since then Ukrainians have conducted probably the largest Eurointegration step; paradoxically despite, rather than due to the EU’s efforts.
Nevertheless, the 27th of June marks the final signing of the Association Agreement including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with Ukraine, following the signature of the political part earlier. Together with the signing of the political and trade agreements the same day with Moldova and Georgia, this provides positive dynamics for the EaP. Half of the project (these three countries out of the six EaP states) is seemingly on the right track now.
From the standpoint of a broader strategic analysis (not going into detail of the specific economic and political clauses) the signing, and most importantly the implementation of the provisions foreseen in the agreements mean a geopolitical irreversibility of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. It’s the beginning of the standards approximation process that will eventually build a new system of governance with European rules and regulations – a break-up with Soviet style management. Whether this extremely ambitious plan will succeed and bring results is definitely an open question depending, first and foremost, on these countries’ political will, decisiveness and implementation capabilities. An imitation of tangible progress on behalf of the EaP countries, coupled with a lack of EU’s real control, supervision and assistance will most probably lead to Europrofanation instead of the desired Eurointegration.
However, clear as daylight is Russia’s resistance to this fundamental geopolitical shift. Statements about conflicting civilizational dimensions with the West were already voiced on the highest political level, signaling a willingness to fall back on Cold-war rhetoric. The problem here though is the EU and the US desire to find excuses for not reacting to this threat. Never fading political statements, consultations and conferences, new “red lines” and conditions – this is what the EU has proven to be good at. Whether actions in support of the EaP countries can be efficient at all, if they are not backed by effective counter-measures against a counterpart that is playing a classical zero-sum game, is again subject to debate.
Though much less painful for trade, and less complex in terms of decision-making than for the EU, the US is not that willing to impose stricter measures either. They are not in the same position as in the 90-ies with a weak and morally destroyed Russia, and a strong believe into the Fukuyama-End-of-History-concept, bringing the victory of liberal capitalism to the fore.
What remains for the EaP countries on their bumpy road to better life is to diligently implement the reforms and complete internal restructuring, relying exclusively on their own resources and strength. Behind the everlasting tug-of-war-policy of great powers on international arena, there are ordinary people who simply want to lead a normal life. The bigger part of Europe’s East opted for the desired model. Now choices shall be followed by actions. And this is where big hopes are being pinned on the Association Agreement as a roadmap for the dreamers; naive Europhiles believing in European values – a category existing now apparently only in the East.