January 7, 2013
The manoeuvring between West and East was common Ukraine’s business for many years. So called “multi-vectorial foreign policy” meant to keep distance from Russia and to speak about European integration as top priority for the country.
Practically, Ukraine did not make a choice yet. Country was indeed avoiding both integration processes led by Russia and reforms needed for real, not declarative European integration.
Seems in 2013 Ukraine will be forced to make a choice. It will be very difficult or even impossible to continue the game.
Russia pushes hard president Victor Yanukovych to drive Ukraine into its Customs union – an element of wider Russia initiated process aimed to creation of the Eurasian Union. Kremlin does not demand democracy in Ukraine, promises cheap gas for the participation in the Customs union and threatens with restriction of Ukrainian export if not. All these things are highly sensible for Ukrainian political elite and oligarchs: they need cheap gas, want sell more production of their plants to Russia and do not like democracy. However joining the Customs union will mean loss the significant part of Ukraine’s economic sovereignity, what is also considerable threat for Yanukovych and his surroundings. Certainly, participation in Russia’s block will make impossible signing the Association agreement with the EU.
On the contrary, for Ukraine signing the Association agreement would be an insurance against coming back under Russia’s sphere of influence. Also the agreement could be an instrument for Ukraine’s modernization and deep economic integration into EU’s single market. However, seems that window of opportunities for this can close this year – the agreement will not lie on the table forever. Indicative deadline for “to be or not to be” is November, when next Eastern Partnership summit will take place. Yanukovych should carry out a number of conditions, specified by the EU Council on December, 2012, and mostly relative to democratization of Ukraine. So far there are not any indications of Yanukovych’s rediness to fulfill the conditions.
Meanwhile, last polls show that Ukrainians mostly support rapprochement with the EU – 52% for joining the Union, although a big part of the population is continuing to dream about “new USSR”.
Besides of public opinion there are many legislative obstacles, in particular Constitutional, to bring Ukraine again under Russia’s control. True, current Ukrainian leadership is extremely skilled in various tricks and passing over the law. In any case looks that the situation with Ukraine’s choice 2013 will be more-less clear within next three-four months. Officially for the time being Ukrainian leadership is looking for the possibility to cooperate with Customs union without joining it. But everything remains highly opaque and unpredictable.