Why Ukraine’s Deal with the EU Matters

Although some advances have been made, Ukraine still has a long path ahead of it before any meaningful stability will return to the country.

Ukraine-russia-EU

Credit: Kyiv Post

Since Ukraine elected President Petro Poroshenko in May, progress has been made in the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

On June 20 the new president revealed a peace plan composed of 15 points to de-escalate the situation between pro-Russian insurgents and the government in eastern Ukraine.

These steps include, amongst others, the decentralization of power, the establishment of a 10km buffer zone on the border between Ukraine and Russia, the restoration of local governmental functions and disarmament.

Poroshenko also declared a ceasefire between June 20-27 which was monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Russia.

The map below illustrates the Ukrainian regions that are pro-Russian:

ukraine-russia-europe

Fig 1 : 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine by RGloucester

The EU is supporting the proposed peace plan and has urged Russia to also back the plan amidst threats that further sanctions might be applied against the country. The EU has also prohibited goods within its territory of Crimean origin due to the ongoing Russian occupation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on the Kremlin’s website that he would support the general terms of the proposed peace plan: “We need to ensure that all fighting is stopped. Ultimately the political process is the most important. It is important that this ceasefire lead to dialogue between all opposing sides in order to find compromises acceptable for all.”

Pro-Russian separatists only agreed to the ceasefire on the June 23 but stated that they would not put down their arms unless governmental troops left eastern Ukraine. But the very next day the temporary truce was put at risk as a military helicopter belonging to government forces was shot down killing nine people. Alexander Borodai, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic stated at the time that “there has been no ceasefire and, judging by everything, there will not be any.”

On June 25, Putin urged Ukraine to prolong the truce and to hold talks with the insurgents. He also revoked a parliamentary resolution that allowed Russia to use its forces in Ukraine, a decision welcomed by the EU.

On June 27, the truce was extended by three days and Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia signed an association agreement with the EU. Poroshenko has already labeled the 27th as the most important day in Ukraine’s history since its independence and upon signing the agreement announced:

“Today I make a unilateral declaration that by signing this agreement with the EU, Ukraine is a European state, sharing common values of democracy and rule of law, and has underlined its sovereign choice in favor of EU membership.”

The agreement signed with the EU as part of the Eastern Partnership Program (EaP) is focused on trade and political assistance. Trade barriers will be lowered and democratic reforms will be encouraged. The three countries ultimately want to be part of the EU as member states, although it is important to remember that the signed agreement is not a promise of EU membership.

READ  Muslims and the West

Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said that the agreement is “not the final stage of our cooperation” but he also did not make any promises of membership. Most EU citizens are against expanding the union further, which is already seen as being too large.

This has sparked a reaction in Russia as the three former Soviet countries move ever closer to Europe. The agreement is perceived as a threat to Russia’s interests in the region and the Russian government has claimed that trade with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova might decrease. Ukraine exports 24 percent of its goods, consisting primarily of metals, grains, machinery, equipment and food, to Russia worth around 15 billion dollars yearly. In response, the EU has argued that the agreement will enhance Ukraine’s exports to the union by 1.35 billion a year.

On June 30 the ceasefire ended and the Ukrainian government began a full-scale military operation against pro-Russian rebels. Since its resumption, governmental control has been reestablished in several areas near the border with Russia.

July 5 marked a turning point for the Ukrainian government forces. Insurgents unexpectedly left two of their bases north of Donetsk that had been occupied for over three months. Igor Strelkov, the main rebel commander, stated that had they not retreated, the insurgents would have been “exterminated in the course of a week, two weeks at most.” He also confirmed that Russia has not provided any assistance to the rebels during the three months of their occupation.

This begs the question of why – could it be that Russia is genuinely worried about further sanctions? In any case it would appear that the EU has managed to convince Putin that the situation in Ukraine cannot continue the way it is.

It would seem that President Poroshenko is doing a good job in reestablishing control in Ukraine, especially considering that he only took office on June 7. But although some advances have been made, Ukraine still has a long path ahead of it before any meaningful stability will return to the country.

Please share this article on FacebookTwitter and Google+

Catherine Lefèvre holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt. She is a volunteer at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London and is a Co-founder of GPPW.org. You can follow her on Twitter @cat_lefevre. Read other articles by Catherine.