EU's Irish envoy laments Ukraine's sudden rejection of landmark deal

Pat Cox calls on EU to maintain ‘high level of vigilance’ over Yulia Tymoshenko

The Irishman at the heart of European Union efforts to seal a historic agreement with Ukraine has described how Kiev's leaders abruptly rejected the deal following meetings with their Russian counterparts.

Pat Cox, a former president of the European Parliament, and former Polish leader Aleksander Kwasniewski were appointed EU envoys to Ukraine in June 2012.

Since then, they have met Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovych 18 times and prime minister Mykola Azarov 25 times. "They did not mention the possibility of suspending the signature of the EU association agreement until our final meetings last week," Mr Cox told The Irish Times.

“It is strategically hard to understand, but indicative of how politics are done in Ukraine,” he said, noting how tactical rather than long-term considerations motivate many key decisions.

“Nothing in Ukraine surprises me, but I did not expect this outcome,” Mr Cox added. “When will this moment present itself again? Who knows?”

Ukraine's leaders say the pact would have wrecked co-operation with Russia, their country's main trading partner, and ruined its already struggling economy – a risk they could not take in the absence of major, immediate financial support from the EU and IMF.

"No official data was ever presented to support concerns which were raised very late in the game," Mr Cox said. "If Ukraine needed help for certain sectors, it would have been helpful if that had been said in an open, honest and explicit way."

Brussels has rejected attempts by Ukraine's leaders to blame it for the failure of a deal that was six years in the making, and criticised an apparent attempt by Mr Yanukovych to trigger competition between the EU and Russia over who will give most to woo Kiev.

Mr Yanukovych met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin three times in recent weeks, but details of what they discussed have not been revealed. "When we asked about those meetings, we were given answers that were highly opaque," Mr Cox said. "What Ukraine was offered by Russia can only be a matter of speculation at the moment."

Mr Yanukovych has baulked at freeing his most popular rival, former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed in 2011 in what the EU and US called a politically motivated case.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe