This Thursday European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule met in Kyiv with Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov about the future of EU-Ukraine relations. The critical moment offered by the Vilnius Summit in November of this year was emphasized by Fule, as it represents the chance to seal the long-awaited Associations pact — a moment that, if missed, would probably leave Ukraine waiting years for another chance to sign.
The Association Agreement, which includes a free-trade accord, has been stymied by postponement, after ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymosheno was imprisoned last year, in a controversial move that the EU has branded as politically motivated. The EU has said that it will keep the development of relations with Ukraine on hold until proper progress is made in this regard. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has promised to take action on this matter soon, saying this week on a visit to Vilnius:
“We can’t fail to react to the EU’s constant criticism on this question, it’s taking time to ensure the solutions we adopt in the near future are in accordance with our legal and judicial framework.”
Yanukovych met with Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius on 7 February, in order to discuss bilateral cooperation and other issues, including the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The Summit in November will take place not only in the Lithuania capital, but will occur while Lithuania holds the EU Council Presidency. Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius spoke yesterday, emphasizing that Lithuania fully supports the EU-Ukraine dialogue towards the signing of the Agreement:
“The Ukrainian Government declares its commitment to follow the path of the European integration. However, Ukraine’s success in euro-integration depends primarily on Ukraine’s determination to undertake political, economic and legal reforms and to ensure democratic development. The EU has made it clear that Ukraine’s success and progress towards political and economic integration, and thus the Association Agreement, will depend on the extent of adherence to common democratic values, and respect for the rule of law.”
Concurrently, during his visit to Kyiv, Stefan Fule stressed that EU-Ukraine have reached a crossroads which is of paramount importance, and that the moment should be seized:
“We can’t wait — the window of opportunity is open now. Timing matters in politics. And to generate a new political momentum, it will take months if not years.”
The prospect of free trade with the EU has perhaps gained greater appeal in recent weeks as Ukraine squabbles over a $7 billion gas bill handed to them by Russian gas corporation, Gazprom. Ukrainian energy officials traveled to Moscow to discuss the matter today, as Ukraine refuses to pay.