EU offers no promises to hopeful Ukraine


UKRAINE:PRESIDENT VIKTOR Yushchenko heard the magic words he was waiting for at the EU-Ukraine summit here yesterday: "association agreement", and a sentence in the joint declaration saying that the EU "recognised that Ukraine as a European country shares a common history and the common values with the countries of the European Union", writes Lara Marlowein Paris.

Three times in a brief press conference the Ukrainian leader noted hopefully that former eastern bloc countries who won association agreements in the 1990s have become members.

The summit, held against a background of triple crisis, was really talks about future talks. Ukraine obtained no dates, no solid commitments. Mr Yushchenko said he hoped the association agreement will be concluded by late 2009. Ukraine wants to join the EU by 2020.

The first crisis, between Georgia and Russia, was the subject of a separate declaration. The EU and Ukraine are "seriously worried" about the conflict in Georgia and "the disproportionate reaction of Russia", it noted.

The only thing sounding vaguely like a warning to Moscow was the statement: "The EU and Ukraine emphasise that every state in Europe has the right to freely determine its foreign policy and its alliances . . . "

The second crisis, between Kiev and Moscow, was sparked by the Russian-Georgian war. Mr Yushchenko is a close friend of the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. After a meeting in Tbilisi on August 13th, Mr Yushchenko demanded that Russia seek permission from Kiev to move warships from the Ukrainian port of Sebastopol, which Russia has leased until 2017.

"The way the Black Sea fleet has been used in military hostilities and waved as a threat to Ukrainian security is unconscionable," Mr Yushchenko said. But in the same breath, an admission of impotence: "There is no counter-balance to the prevailing power in the region," he sighed, referring to Russia. This was why it was urgent for Europe to develop a security policy.

For security, Ukraine and Georgia look to Nato, not Europe. Both hope the present crisis will lead Nato foreign ministers to grant them Map (Membership Action Plan) status in December.

European diplomats have expressed concern that vague promises of EU membership could be used to compensate Ukraine and Georgia for their failure to gain Nato membership.

The third crisis is domestic, between Mr Yushchenko and his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Their coalition collapsed last week, and he is expected to call snap elections. Mr Yushchenko is virulently anti-Russian and unpopular. Consequently, Ms Tymoshenko may be considering an alliance with the pro-Russian Regions party, which could give her a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

All of this helps to explain the EU's reluctance to open its arms to Ukraine. Asked whether he favoured Ukrainian accession, Mr Sarkozy hid behind his role as acting president of the EU Council. "I am not speaking as president of France," he said. "I am speaking in the name of the EU. The name of this is an association agreement . . . The EU has not authorised me to make any other decision or any other announcements . . . Within the council there are varying positions. My concern is European unity. This is something we explained to our friend, the president of Ukraine. This was the most we could offer, but I believe this to be a substantial step."