Moscow and Kyiv are preparing for a state visit by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Russia, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov confirmed at a conference today, 21 December, entitled “Ukrainian Election Results and Russia-Ukraine Cooperation Prospects” in Kyiv. The ambassador did not specify when the visit would take place. The statement comes on the heels of an abruptly cancelled state visit earlier this week, which left many uneasy about the meaning behind the aborted meeting between the two countries.
The Ukraine is caught in the crossfire of deeper cooperation talks with the European Union and Russia–dabbling in relations with both, leaving Ukraine’s future uncertain. The Ukraine is in the midst of negotiating a possible Association Agreement with the EU, which would facilitate a free trade arrangement between the two. However, the country is also discussing possible involvement in Russia’s Eurasian Union–a customs union with currently includes Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Speaking this week, Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee emphasized the need for the Ukraine to make a clear decision, saying:
“The position of European institutions – the European Parliament, the European Commission is clear – Ukraine cannot be simultaneously a member of the Customs Union and the EU, sign agreements with the Customs Union and the EU, cannot have a free trade zone with both the organizations.”
The Ukraine’s relationship with Russia hinges strongly on the Ukraine’s reliance on Russian gas. The Ukraine’s economy cannot sustainably support Russian gas prices, a fact which Russia is willing to negotiate upon on the understanding that the Ukraine will join its Eurasian customs union. Many argue that this is too great a price to pay for cheaper gas–and would ultimately serve to alienate the Ukraine from the EU. The previously planned state meeting was cancelled immediately after Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich spoke with EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso. The exact nature of their exchange is not known, but the scheduled state visit consequently collapsed–leaving many to believe it signals a crisis in Ukrainian-Russian relations.
Russian daily newspaper, Kommersant, believes that the cancellation “indicates major differences between Kyiv and Moscow, and shows that neither side intends to make any concessions at this stage”. The pro-Russia newspaper accuses the Ukraine of toying with Russia, wearing down Moscow’s patience, and demonstrating “an unwavering intention to… sit on two chairs – Russian and European – at once”.