Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Ukraine this weekend to commemorate the 1,025th anniversary of a mass baptism which marked the consolidation of Kyivan Rus. In addition to marking the historic occasion, Putin has used the opportunity to discuss the future, urging Ukraine to weigh carefully the benefits of joining Russia’s Customs Union, against its plans for closer ties with the European Union. Putin’s Eurasian Union promotion may be increasing as the European Union has reached its 4 month countdown to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. It will be a decisive moment for EU-Ukraine-Russian relations, and speculation is reaching fever pitch about which way Ukraine will ultimately lean…
Ukraine is tipped to sign to sign an association agreement with the European Union at the EaP Summit. The agreement would entail closer integration with the West, which has prompted Russia to try to lure Ukraine to its Customs Union, with the promise of lucrative gas deals and large investments. As Putin told press during his visit:
“There is tough competition going on for the global markets. And I am sure most of you realise that only by joining forces we can be competitive and win in this rather tough struggle.”
In support of his perspective, Putin cited figures showing that while Russia’s trade with Ukraine fell 18% in the first quarter if this year, trade turnover within the Moscow-led post-Soviet Customs Union bloc grew by 2-3%. In addition, Putin marked the religious nature of the occasion as a point of commonality between Russia and Ukraine, an element which historically ties the two together, saying:
“Orthodoxy has become a spiritual buttress of the Russian state and for our national consciousness, uniting Russia, Ukraine and Belarus through strong bonds of brotherhood.”
Some have argued that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych skirted the overtures from Putin, replying diplomatically to the Russian President’s statements, but referring to Russia only as a “strategic partner”, and saying on behalf of Ukraine “We appreciate and value our friendship with Russia”.
The basis for his hesitation to emphasise Russian-Ukrainian unity may lie in recent national statistics which showed that only 31 percent of the Ukrainian population favors the country’s accession to the Russia-led Customs Union, which would likely hinder Ukrainian hopes for EU membership, a preferred choice by 42 percent of the population, according to the Kiev-based Razumkov Center.
Other statistics from the Kiev School of Economics estimate that integration with the European market would bring Ukraine $19 billion to $26 billion worth of additional exports in the long term. While Putin has promised that Ukraine’s accession to the Customs Union would bring from 1.5 to 6.5 percent of GDP growth.
— Ukraine Business (@UkraineBusines) July 29, 2013
However, Ukraine faces greater and greater pressure in making the choice, as the nation is struggling with increasing economic hardship. In light of this, U.S. strategist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has offered insight into Russia’s consistent attempts to win Ukraine’s political heart, explaining:
“If Ukraine survives and prospers, the chances in fact are greater in the long-run that Russia will become a post-Imperial democratic state; if Georgia or Ukraine falter, Russia again becomes an empire with growing ambitions. Ukraine was the most industrially developed part of the Soviet Union, with 20 percent of capital investments going there.”
Putin’s visit, however, greeted by Anti-Russian protesters, who gathered outside the Russian embassy in Kiev demonstrating their dissatisfaction with Moscow’s policies toward their country. Following his visit, experts weighed in, saying that it was clear Putin was dissatisfied with the outcome of the gathering. Deputy General Director of the Razumkov Center Valeriy Chaly elaborated:
“I think that the expectations of this visit in Russia and Ukraine have not been realized. On the one hand, the format of events did not encourage a formal discussion on bilateral relations, but on the other hand, the informal and direct communication between the presidents helped resolve the problems that are complicating bilateral relations in our well-known agenda.”
“Judging by the reaction of the Ukrainian and Russian presidents, I cannot say that the relations between them on a personal level have become significantly warmer. Apparently, the compromises to which Vladimir Putin wants to prompt Viktor Yanukovych are currently unacceptable amid the approach to the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU and the choice by Ukraine of the European path of development.”
Another indication that the visit did not go according to Putin’s plan came today, as Russia banned imports from yet another foreign company–as one analyst explains:
“The best indicator that Putin was dissatisfied with the visit was the morning announcement on July 29 that the Russian government was forbidding the import of chocolates produced by the leading Ukrainian confectionary firm, Roshen. That’s a clear warning from the Russian government of what to expect in the future should the Ukrainian government opt to sign the Association Agreement, which would close the door to Ukraine’s membership in the Eurasian Union to be launched in 2015.”
Russian officials, however, explained the decision on the basis of sanitation concerns, saying:
“Unfortunately, our apprehensions have proved true, a fact which we sincerely regret. The identified irregularities give us reason to raise the issue of banning the imports of all products of this company.”
Yes,it is Ukraine’s choice,nobody’s else.Nearly 1000 years ago the choice was Europe.Free to choose again. http://t.co/fUQ8fNn3aY
— Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (@JSaryuszWolski) July 28, 2013