The LOSE-LOSE-LOSE game

After having postponed twice its decision, Ukraine's Parliament failed yesterday (21st November) to get the ticket to Europe, as international media reported. But what was considered as the fee to pay to join the Club – i.e., pass the bill that would have allowed jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to travel to Germany for medical treatment – actually reflected the mistakes that have so far affected the negotiations between Brussels and Kiev.

A ticket to nowhere

The EU has made the signing of the Association Agreement (AA) and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Ukraine, at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius next week, conditional upon Kyiv meeting higher judicial and democratic standards; a definition that includes the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, whose conviction is seen by Brussels as "selective justice." Straight after the Ukraine's Verhovna Rada rejected the six bills for the release of Tymoshenko, due to the abstention from voting of the President’s Yanukovych Party of Regions, the Cabinet of Ministers  issued a decree to suspend the preparations for the signing of the Association Agreement.

Having made the way to Europe dependent upon the fate of one person – replicating a well-tested system (as seen during the negotiations with Croatia) – is probably the biggest mistake made by the Eu. But giving credit to Mr. Yanukovych’s words has possibly been an even bigger one.

The man with the key

"Many things are in the hands of President Yanukovych, his role is central”, said after the first voting of the Parliament  Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, “I hope that he also feels the responsibility. By taking lead and responsibility for the country's future, he has the potential of making the necessary decisions". His words, that probably summarize the clearest analysis  of the situation, would fit even better today. We could easily add that Mr. Yanukovych never really intended to lead Ukraine towards the European Union.

“I never figured out we were willing to join the European Union”, told me an Ukrainian friend of mine – once back home from a few months in the States – after having heard Mr. Yanukovych’s statements in September. The truth is that Ukrainians woke up one summer day hearing for the first time Mr. Yanukovych talking about EU instead of Russia. After years of pro-Russian policy conducted by their pro-Russian (and Russian speaking) president, they found out that the government was heading to another direction, in the very moment Russia was offering a hand.

The lose-lose-lose game

Eu loses, Russia wins, and Ukraine? “Actually, I am certain that this is very regrettable a case of lose-lose-lose”, twitted Martin Hagström, Ambassador of Sweden for the Eastern Partnership.

Far from being a “ticket to Europe”, the signature of the Association Agreement  (which, implying a free trade agreement, would have certainly paved the way to a formal application for EU membership) would have nevertheless led the country far away from the Custom Union and the Eurasian Union, firmly wanted by Vladimir Putin. Even though it doesn’t imply an application to join the EU, nor binds Ukraine to the West, the signing has been strongly undermined by Russia. Starting from the trade blitzkrieg, that last summer caused a traffic jam of trucks at the Russia-Ukraine border, Kremlin’s countermeasures involved the energetic picklock when someone reminded Ukrainians how freezing the winter could be without Russian gas.

Oddly, Mr. Yanukovych flew to Moscow a couple of times during the last weeks, with no other official reason but discussing “issues of trade-economic relations between two countries in the frames of the Vilnius Summit”. And all at once, an happy ending to the old gas dispute materialized a few days ago, when Russia and Ukraine reached a compromise deal allowing Kiev to alter its payment schedule for Russian gas, amounting to over $1 billion of unpaid bills. Good deal!

It only remains to be seen who will make the next move.

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