Yesterday the Ukrainian and European parliaments simultaneously ratified the landmark Association Agreement: 355 and 535 votes respectively. A synchronous signing session followed thereafter. As European Parliament rapporteur Jacek Saryusz-Wolski from the EPP said yesterday: “Through this ratification, Ukraine’s European choice will be institutionalised and will bind the futures of the EU and Ukraine together. Ukrainian society has paid the highest price for its European aspirations, grieving the deaths of numerous people, suffering territorial occupation by Russia and experiencing deteriorating economic conditions.”
Although the ratification of the agreement is a positive piece of news coming from Ukraine – a rare occasion recently – it has been somewhat overshadowed by an already traditional Russian intervention. As an accord between two parties – a sovereign Ukraine and the EU – the association agreement should be in theory agreed upon and negotiated by just those two parties. But not in this case. Russia made the European counterparts believe that it should have a say in the negotiations. Although the attempts to insert numerous amendments into the actual text were in vain, they succeeded in making the EU and Ukraine postpone the implementation phase until January 2016. To effectively sell this story, they nicely wrapped it in “save the economy” rhetoric, referring to the current weak and vulnerable state of Ukraine’s economy and Russia’s fear of European goods flooding its own market. From a purely economic standpoint it does make sense, albeit, the broader political picture is horrifying: not only is an open annexation and neglect of international law allowed by the state-aggressor Russia but also interference into a bilateral agreement. By agreeing to compromise on this issue, the EU together with Ukraine’s current leadership committed a fatal mistake by sending a very dangerous signal to the aggressor: we are weak and ready to compromise on uncompromisable matters. Not only history but basic human behaviour tells us: if you allow one praline, next follows the whole chocolate box. By giving in, they will stimulate further Putin’s appetites.
The EU has been highly criticised for not understanding Ukraine, which was highlighted by the absolute non-prediction of the sequence of events in their Eastern neighbour throughout last year. One of the major shortcomings of the EU’s approach was to regard and treat Ukraine through the prism of EU-Russian relations. Yet, this formula that Ukraine was trying to overcome especially during Maidan-times is even more vividly in place now. The EU does not seem to have learned from its mistakes yet<.
Nevertheless, the purely legal document part on Ukraine’s side is finally accomplished. It is unbelievable how many obstacles a single (although quite massive) document can overcome. There have been many years of EU-Ukraine negotiations; first fiasco at the Vilnius summit in November 2013, where ex-President Yanukovych refused to sign; splitting the document into an economic and political part and their separate signing; final simultaneous ratification with a parallel postponing. Both the EU and Ukraine’s leadership stress, not without pride, that the text has remained the same. What has not, unfortunately, is the de-facto geographical size of one of the parties – Ukraine. Russia’s intention is to wait so long that there won’t be a country to actually implement it. Is it Europe’s too?