The Yalta European Strategy (YES) conference took place the 19th-22nd in Ukraine. This year marked the 10th annual event of its kind, with this years theme being “Changing Ukraine in a Changing World: Factors of Success”. President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and President of the Republic of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė officially opened the meeting, presenting their visions on how to create synergies for Wider Europe. The conference was also attended by other key EaP representatives, Commissionaire Štefan Füle, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. Sikorski brought a dose of reality to the proceedings, and just how far Ukraine has come in the last year…
“Ukraine is on the final lap, and it must double its efforts and finish off the job in order to convince everyone in the EU that it wants to undertake the conditions set out in the Association Agreement and to abide by European values,” Sikorski said of Ukraine’s progress towards signing the Association Agreement at the Vilnius Summit in November.
The Polish Foreign Minister continued: “I get the impression that the Ukrainian authorities have made a strategic decision, but I also know that not all EU member states are convinced,” referring to the skepticism of some EU officials who still want Ukraine to make legislative changes to its justice and election procedures before signing the Agreement.
— Mamuka Kudava (@mamuka_kudava) September 23, 2013
The Minister went on:
“Following the summit, the Eastern Partnership countries should move forward and demonstrate their determination to implement the reforms we agreed on in the document… The Association document is not merely a technical document, it describes a political vision in which the countries associating with the EU are positioned in relation to other countries”.
Sikorski concluded by emphasising that the change was possible for Ukraine to realise:
“You are a step closer to achieving your goal and I hope your finish will be successful. Now you are so close to the finish line it would be bad if you failed to take the last step over it. We have managed to take it and I am sure you will be able to do it as well.”
Polish FM Sikorski at Yalta YES conf re Tymoshenko & association agreement: promises were made; there is risk #Ukraine will miscalculate.
— Steven Pifer (@steven_pifer) September 21, 2013
Meanwhile, Ukrainian foreign minister Leonid Kozhara has claimed that such changes can be made in a matter of days, giving the media an optimistic picture, saying “we have practically finished the job,” and “we are sure that the technical aspects will be finalised by the end of the month.”
Russia says EU pact means Ukraine will lose its “status as a state”, predicts ec & pol chaos. Me from Yalta http://t.co/kCdQHIOcW2
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) September 22, 2013
Concerns have arisen, however, after news broke that a critical report by European Parliament envoys – former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former EP president Pat Cox – could block the Agreement’s signing in Vilnius in November. Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the European Parliament, Elmar Brok spoke at the conference, saying:
“From the outset we have said that before signing the Association Agreement, Ukraine must fulfil all the conditions – one of these is the resolution of the selective means in which the law has been imposed on Yulia Tymoshenko. If Messrs Cox and Kwasniewski cannot produce a positive report to the European Parliament on 15 October, then we will have a problem.”
Aleksander Kwaśniewski welcomes the participants to Yalta European Strategy 2013 @ Villa Elena Hotel &… http://t.co/taYqpRJ1eN
— Pavlo Sheremeta (@PavloSheremeta) September 19, 2013
The conditional release of Tymoshenko is one of the most heatedly debated criteria for Ukraine’s signing of the Association Agreement. Tymoshenko was afforded the chance to speak to the attendees of the YES conference from behind bars. Tymoshenko addressed the group, first by thanking them, saying:
“During these two years, I have not felt myself alone even for a single moment. I have not been left alone to deal with difficult challenges and tests. A white orchid from Dalia Grybauskaitė, short notes from Carl (Bildt) and Elmar (Brok), the unexpected visit of support by Štefan (Fuele) to my prison cell in the Lukianivka, warm meetings with Presidents (Pat) Cox and (Alexander) Kwaśniewski and letters of solidarity from many world leaders – all of these were for me not only gestures of personal support but de facto solidarity and support for my dear Ukraine – the nation that belongs to Europe and deserves a better fate.”
— Nikolai Holmov (@OdessaBlogger) September 21, 2013
Tymoshenko continued, highlighting the importance of the Association Agreement with the EU:
“This European perspective is being constructed by us, here and now. It depends on us what would be an outcome of this process. The Association Agreement provides an opportunity for change from inside that has been needed for a long time, but in itself it doesn’t guarantee it.
Authoritarianism, disrespect to the rule of law and human rights, and poor economic governance will not disappear by default only because the Agreement is signed.
That is why I would like to call you to look beyond 2013. If the conditions for a consistent and effective implementation of the Agreement are not created, it can, unfortunately, turn into another lost opportunity. “
At Yalta conference, with the feeling here that Europe’s geopolitics are about to shift. List of participants suggests Ukraine is in vogue.
— Radosław Sikorski (@sikorskiradek) September 21, 2013
Big waves after our talks in Yalta, but at the end of the day it’s concrete decisions that count. http://t.co/cR6kQnkaGp
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) September 20, 2013