According to reports this week, Ukraine still fully intends to sign the Association Agreements with the European Union. As a result of Catherine Ashton’s two day visit to Kyiv in order to negotiate with Ukrainian President Yanukovych, it appears that Ukraine is making yet another u-turn on its relations with the EU. According to Ashton, “Viktor Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement,” while Ukraine’s first deputy prime minister Serhiy Arbuzov said Ukraine would “soon sign” but declined to provide any date or deadline. Meanwhile, the US is making other plans…
The protests in Ukraine have drawn substantial international attention, particularly concern and anger over the actions of police and authorities towards activists taking part in the protest. The US state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki has commented on the US’ reaction to the events in Ukraine, saying:
“All policy options, including sanctions, are on the table, in our view, but obviously that still is being evaluated. We’re considering policy options. There obviously hasn’t been a decision made. Sanctions are included. But I am not going to outline more specifics.”
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has described America’s “disgust” over the government’s handling of the protests, saying:
“The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest … with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.”
Senator Chris Murphy spelled out the possible ramifications facing the Ukrainian government, if things do not improve in the US’ estimation:
“If he continues to use bulldozers and batons to break up peaceful demonstrations, there could be consequences, real consequences, from the Congress.”
But, has the game changed?
Against the backdrop of Catherine Ashton’s assertions and the USA’s threats, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle met with Ukrainian deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov in Brussels to discuss ways towards the signature and implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
According to Füle:
‘We had a very frank and very open meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Arbuzov, who came together with his colleagues: the ministers of economy, budget and the National Bank Governor. Before that, I had also a videoconference with the leaders of the opposition in Kiev. Our message to both sides is the same – and was also at the heart of Catherine Ashton’s visit to Ukraine this week.
The immediate necessities of EU-Ukrainian relations were discussed, including the most pressing concerns for both parties, which are being seen the stumbling blocks to clear progress:
“The process needs to be inclusive and transparent. We called on our Ukrainian partners to ensure also participation of the civil society in this endeavour. The other backdrop for our efforts is the looming financial crisis in Ukraine. We need to help Ukraine to restore rapidly the confidence not only of its citizens, but also that of international investors and creditors, as a stable and predictable economy with promising growth prospects.”
After a meeting w/ Yanukovych, Ashton claims he now "intends to sign" the Eastern Partnership accords. Why believe him this time? I don't.
— Daniel Hamilton (@danielrhamilton) December 12, 2013
Füle then elucidated, in practical terms what the conclusions of the meetings were:
“There is also no better signal to send to the citizens who continue to demonstrate peacefully for a secure and prosperous future for them and their children, than a rapid signature of the Association Agreement, with DCFTA. For this purpose, we have agreed today that on a basis of a clear commitment of Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement we will:
(1) prepare a roadmap for implementation of the AA/DCFTA
(2) facilitate and continue supporting Ukraine in its endeavours to create the necessary conditions conducive to reaching an arrangement with the IMF
(3) use the existing bilateral consultation mechanisms, which will examine swiftly in depth all issues related to the implementation of the AA/DCFTA. “
Füle emphasised that, given conditions, time is of the essence for the Ukraine, concluding:
“Given the rapidly deteriorating economic and political situation in the country, the faster Ukraine clarifies its intentions, the faster we can both: start and finish our work. We stand ready to help and support Ukraine in its modernisation on the basis of the Association Agreement, including through topping up IMF loans with macro-financial assistance; by stepping up the European Union’s financial assistance programmes to help Ukraine implement the Agreement, when signed, and helping to bring on board other international partners. We will be staying in close contact with the deputy :Prime Minister Arbuzov on these issues.”