The Ukrainian Government Commissioner on European Integration Valery Pyatnitsky announced that the free trade pact – a part of the Association Agreement (AA) between the European Union and Ukraine – will be ready to sign within upcoming weeks. Yet, according to a state representative of Russia, President Viktor Yanukovych is to put forward a motion regarding ratification of a similar treaty with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) at the same time. In Ukraine, the concept of bipolarity in terms of foreign policy seems to be currently in its heyday.
Valery Pyatnitsky, Deputy Minister of Economy of Ukraine and head of EU-integration department, announced on Friday (6 January 2012) that the preparation process of the free trade agreement between his country and the European Union is coming to its end. However, the firm date of the signing was not mentioned – the politician used the enigmatic political settlements as an excuse: “I would rather not speculate on what date exactly the agreement will be signed. There are specific political conditions that influence the whole process”. This way, he indirectly mentioned the case of imprisoned former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who is considered the initial cause the AA was not signed at the EU-Ukraine summit in December last year (see here: Ukrainian Summit of Polish Presidency).
The Ukrainian representative also enhanced the fact that, unlike the agreement offered by the CIS, the EU AA includes not only improvement of the trade exchange among the signatories (EU states and Ukraine). In Pyatnitsky’s opinion, the Agreement would also bring balance to the labour markets and, among others, move his country closer to the EU standards in all fields. He emphasised his disagreement with views presented by several experts regarding cooperation with the CIS more beneficial to Ukraine than that with the EU.
The statement of Pyatnitsky coincided with information given by a representative of the Russian government about the planned ratification of a free trade agreement with the CIS, an organization gathering the post-Soviet republics. Valery Muntyan , the Russian envoy on CIS and the Eurasian Economic Community to Ukraine, said in a radio interview that “in the near future” President Yanukovych is to put forward the motion concerning ratification of a free trade treaty with the CIS.
The parallel announcements regarding Ukraine joining two different trade organizations at the same time is the obvious continuation of Kiev’s policy tending to maintain similar distance from both Moscow and Brussels. On 18 November 2011, at the CIS summit in Saint Petersburg (see here: Kiev’s Trade Splits) Ukraine signed an initial agreement on creating joint free trade area among the engaged states. Two days later, on 20 November, the European Union and Ukraine announced finalizing the talks on conditions regarding DCFTA. Next month, on 19 December, Kiev hosted the EU-Ukraine meeting marking official ending of negotiations on the AA. Then, on 20 December, during his visit in Moscow, the Ukrainian leader declared his country’s readiness for ratification of a free trade agreement with all CIS countries at once. Finally, at the end of the year, on 29 December, Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, the head of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, shared his expectations concerning the date of signing the AA, probably somewhere in the middle of February 2012.
While listing the dates, one can see how the meeting calendar reflects the dynamics of relations Ukraine has been forging with both the EU and Russia (and the CIS) for last few months. Kiev attempts to oversee two integration processes at once and, at the same time, to balance influences of both organizations through limiting its engagement in the two projects. However, the vectors of Kiev’s foreign policy – the Eastern and the European – depend on the internal situation of the country. Releasing Tymoshenko – the “pro-European choice of Ukraine” – would cost the authorities too much. But protection of domestic assets against integration projects authored by Russia is also stimulating the Ukrainian government to put a healthy distance between the country and its Eastern neighbour.
This foreign policy of Kiev, called “schizophrenic” and accused of being short-sighted, does not endear Ukraine in European capitals, as well as in Moscow. As long as Ukrainians are succeeding in ensuring both partners of their country’s geopolitical significance, the benefits outweigh the costs of following such policy. Nevertheless, along with Europeans’ progressing withdrawal from supporting Ukrainian “Europeanization” and ongoing promotion of Russian gas projects bypassing Ukraine (North Stream and South Stream pipelines), the manoeuvre room for the “bipolar diplomacy” is going to suffer a radical decrease. At last, Kiev will be forced to choose, although, when Europe will turn its back, discouraged by the government’s anti-democratic actions, and Russia will be able to exclude Ukraine totally in regards to its gas transport, it will be too late.
Will the political and economic potential that Ukraine holds suffice to retain its independent status in the region of as extraordinary complexity in all spheres as Eastern Europe? Considering the centuries-long and turbulent history of Ukrainians, who have experienced meagre 20 years of living in an independent state, formulation of optimistic prognosis requires utmost caution.