By Valentyna Hlushak
EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, Vilnius, 29 November, 2013 – Failed
EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, Brussels, 27 June, 2014 –Approved & Signed
June 27th 2014 was a significant moment in the history of Ukraine, when the newly elected President Petro O. Poroshenko signed the Association Agreement with the European Union. In his Brussels speech, Poroshenko said that this was the most important day for his country after their Independence Day. He also asked the European leaders to help Ukraine become a fully-fledged member of the EU stating that, “[it] would cost the European Union nothing, but would mean the world to my country that paid the highest possible price to make her European dreams come true”.
Contrary to this statement, Ukrainian membership and the integration of =Georgia and Moldova will cost the EU both time and resources. Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, writes that, “while implementation of the association agreement will require EU attention, time and resources, it offers a big pay-off: a stable Ukraine with a growing economy and stronger democratic institutions is exactly the kind of country that the European Union wants as a neighbor”.
Why do the people of Ukraine want to be a part of the EU?
According to research provided by the Razumkov Sociological Service Center, more than 60% of Ukrainians support integration with the EU and 40% want to see it become a part of NATO. Comparing the national polls from March of this year with April, the number of people supporting Ukrainian integration with the EU has increased from 54.5% to 60.9%. The number of people who support Ukraine becoming part of the Customs Union remains consistent: 23.9% (March) and 22.1% (April). As expected, 94.7% of the west, 72.1% of the center and 41.9% of the south support EU membership. 46.8% of people in the eastern Ukraine want to be a part of the Customs Union, and at the same time, 35.2% of them want to be part of the EU.
The EU Trade Pact includes a deep and comprehensive free-trade arrangement (DCFTA) that will open European markets to Ukrainian exports. This deal creates a tremendous number of opportunities for Ukrainian companies, especially for heavy industry in Eastern Ukraine. Upon opening markets to other countries, Ukraine will become competitive, , improve working conditions and raise product quality. This is also an opportunity for President Poroshenko to rebuild eastern Ukraine and unite the whole country; the majority of Ukrainians want their country to remain as a united and independent state.
Ukrainians are mainly interested in improving their way of living. The eastern Ukraine will support the EU as soon as standard of living improves.. On a June 26 PACE session in Brussels President Poroshenko, announced. “with our partners from the European Union and the United States of America, we have drawn up a job creation programme that will attract investment and a draft programme on economic reconstruction for the region that will settle the distribution of funds between the centre and the regions”. This plan could be a bridge to peaceful collaboration between the Kyiv government and the eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia need to mend their relationship
Without a doubt Ukraine’s path to complete European integration will be challenging and will be bumpier if Ukraine remains in confrontation with the Russian Federation. Therefore, it is in best interest of Ukraine to stabilize and start repairing its relations with its eastern neighbor. It is an absolute truth that the Russian Federation is stronger militarily and economically when compared to Ukraine. The Ukrainian people and its politicians need to realize that Russia was, is and will always remain its eastern neighbor. It is better to have cordial relations with Russia than continue the current hatred between two nations which only contributes to the escalation of the conflict. It is time for both the Ukrainian and Russian leaders to stop their rhetoric and engage in a bilateral dialogue.
It is unlikely that Russia will return Crimea to Ukraine, as this would greatly undermine President’s Putin reputation inside the country and throughout the world. Ukraine doesn’t have the capability to go into war over the Crimea andcannot count on military support from its allies. As Ian Bremmer, an American political scientist and the founder of the Eurasian Group, says,
“wars against other powerful countries are dangerous and expensive for a states that needs to keep its economy stable while undertakes the ambitious economic reforms needed to pull of the next stage of development”
At the same time, Russia has overplayed its hand by funding and arming anti-government groups in eastern Ukraine that are perpetrating such gruesome violence. One of many examples is the abduction and killing of Volodymyr Rybak, a city councilor in Horlovka, Donetsk Province, whose funeral was on April 24. The Ukrainian state security agency said Russian military officers directing the separatist upraising in Donetsk had ordered Rybak’s killing after he opposed a separatist takeover in Horlivka (Reuters/Marko Djurica). John E. Herbs, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine writes in his article on June 26, 2014 that the purpose of this selective terror in eastern Ukraine is to drive out local elitesto scare the local population into not cooperating with any arm of the Kyiv government, and to provoke the government in Kyiv to use force massively, so as to produce major civilian casualties and alienate people in the east”. He states further that, “if the Russian government shuts down the supply of fighters, equipment and money this conflict would be over in a fortnight” .
The Road to European Union Accession Is Not an Easy One
The signing of an Association Agreement with the EU does not imply that the lives of millions Ukrainians, whether they live in the east or the west, the south or the north will change overnight, or in a month or two. This signature is only the beginning, and it opened a new chapter in Ukrainian history. Now, most of the responsibilities for implementing reforms and making Ukraine a truly European country that abides by the EU standards and requirements lay with President Poroshenko, his Administration and the Parliament. “The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight. Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success”. Suu Kyi said these powerful words to the President Obama when he was visiting Burma in 2012. President Poroshenko must take the ongoing crisis very seriously and normalization of relations with the Russian Federation must be a priority on his agenda if he wants Ukraine to be stable country and become a part of the European Union one day.
Valentyna Hlushak is an Executive Office intern at EWI's New York office.