Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed the Association Agreement, including the parts concerning DCFTA, with the European Union last Friday in Brussels. If successfully ratified by the EU member states and implemented in the three countries, the agreements will change the social, political and economic scene in the region, writes Paweł Lickiewicz, editor in chief of Eastbook.eu.
According to Reuters,
“The agreements are the EU’s way of extending influence to its neighbors without offering actual [EU] membership… The agreements gradually liberalize trade with partners, meaning countries end up with unfettered access to the 28-nation bloc’s 500 million consumers – the world’s largest and wealthiest single market. The EU also provides technical help and funds to help countries adapt to its regulations and allow businesses to bid for lucrative EU public works contracts”.
Yet, as Paweł Lickiewicz, editor in chief of Eastbook.eu mentions, the Friday signing is not the effect of EU’s active diplomacy, but rather the determination of the societies in the three above mentioned countries who desire to leave the post-Soviet “paradise”.
In his interview for CNN, Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine present in Brussels on 27 June, said that the events of that day may be the most important for his country since it became independent from the Soviet Union. Lickiewicz reminds that the Ukrainian head of state was given his power on the wave of citizens’ protests – the Euromaidan revolution – which had risen after his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych had declined to sign the Agreement with the EU at the Vilnius Summit in November 2013. The disturbance in Ukraine and deaths of its peacefully protesting citizens that followed the December events resulted in the EU deciding to accelerate the preparation process for association for two other countries already strongly engaged in the European pre-integration process – Georgia and Moldova.
However, it is not the EU that should take the credit for the successful signing of the documents.
“It is the effect of determination of those who have decided to flee the ‘post-Soviet paradise’ and (re)integration concepts created by the Russian Federation”, writes Lickiewicz.
From the politically unsuccessful Commonwealth of the Independent States thorough the Eurasian Union – a Russian-led alternative from 1994 for the EU, gathering Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – to the Customs Union, offering conditions similar to those of EU Association Agreements, all Russian initiatives seem only a late, economically unattractive imitations of EU propositions for the region, now under the programme of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Only Armenia’s – one of the six EaP states, including Belarus – U-turn from negotiations with the EU could be described as the Russian success, though dictated rather by security issues (ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan) than economic allures.
All parties interested are aware of the direct and indirect threats behind any cooperation propositions from the big neighbour. Ellie Knott (LSE blog) reminds how Russia’s actions of last few months destabilised the region even further:
“Meanwhile, Russia’s willingness to challenge Ukraine’s territorial integrity, by seizing Crimea, its tenuous relations with separatists movements in Donetsk and Lugansk and its cessation of gas exports to Ukraine, have drastically changed not just the configuration of the Ukrainian state and society, but have been one of the biggest earthquakes for relations between Russia and the wider post-Soviet region”.
Lickiewicz describes it further:
“Russians are unable to find an adequate response to the Euromaidan revolution, which resulted in pro-Western politicians seizing the power in Ukraine. Therefore, the Russian Federation used the ultimate tool of foreign policy: military intervention and annexation of a territory. Moscow, continuing the destabilization process in the neighbouring country by sending weapons, equipment and personnel to its eastern regions, aims at preventing Ukraine from actual integration with western structures.
This policy, however, remains fruitless”.
Tomasz Kułakowski (PISM), in reply to the concern for Ukraine expressed by Russian head of state Vladimir Putin, presents a vision:
“…if Russia re-orientated itself towards Europe, begun democratization process, got rid of corruption, reformed its economy and administration of justice, acknowledged Europe, the US and NATO as allies instead of enemies, Ukraine wouldn’t be a problem – Ukrainians would be even more eager to work in and export high quality products to Russia, and follow the successful example of Russian economic transformation”.
That seems highly improbable as long as Russian citizens keep the current leader in favour. After the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s leaders remain untrustworthy, even if undeniably important, partners in the eyes of their neighbours.
As Michael Birnbaum (The Washignton Post) points out:
“Russia has said it will flex its considerable muscle to squeeze any nation in the former Soviet orbit that seeks a future with Europe. Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are facing intense pressure ahead of the signing of the deal, including threats of export bans and tightened immigration rules, as well as the specter of strengthened separatist movements. But the warnings may be backfiring, with leaders in all three countries saying Moscow’s ominous tone demonstrates more than ever why they need to pick a different path”.
The citizens of the signatory countries must at least believe that closer connection with its western neighbours could open more possibilities. Paweł Lickiewicz elaborates:
“The Russian informal military intervention could – paradoxically – accelerate reforms in Ukraine. Citizens as well as politicians have witnessed real intentions behind Russia’s ‘brotherly’ help – an attempt to prevent Ukraine from freely choosing the path to follow in the future.
“On the margin: I intentionally don’t use the term ‘freely choosing the path towards development’ – the European Union is currently suffering from a financial, institutional and identity crisis, which means that its own ‘development” remains an open question. However, despite these problems, societies of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine prefer integration with the empire of bureaucracy of the West instead of the post-Soviet paradise. It looks like the citizens tasted their own ‘fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil’”.
Peter Pomarentsev’s (Foreign Policy) description of the position of Georgia, another signatory of the Friday agreement, may also refer to other two countries:
“If the EU is not prepared, realistically, to extend membership further east, then both Georgia and Europe should adjust. Europe can help Georgia to stay focused on its reform process in three ways. Brussels should continue to build Association Agreements. It should strengthen the Eastern Partnership program, which is designed to expand ties with the EU’s eastern neighbors in a variety of ways that stop short of full membership in the Union. And it should eventually give Georgia the same kind of privileged access to the EU that Norway and Switzerland enjoy”.
Is such a scenario for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia possible in the near future? The “association” process with all its ratification and implementation stages will be long. Does the EU and its neighbours have enough time, energy and resources to conclude it?
Feature image: Lucas Cranach the Elder – Adam and Eve; source: Wiki Commons