Implementation of EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (I)

Implementation of EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (I)

Ukraine is «saving Europe»!?

The full implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, along with the opening of the Free Trade Area between the two parties on Jan. 1, 2016, was expected by Kiev to be an important historic milestone, upon which all of Ukraine’s problems would miraculously melt away. But what actually happened?

The beginning of the year brought dismal news to Kiev from Holland. An extensive survey showed that a large majority of the Dutch (78%) intend to vote against the ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement during the upcoming April 9 referendum in Holland. No one was expecting this number to be so disastrously high. The Hague and Kiev have until now not been inclined to attach much importance to the impending vote, reminding everyone that it is non-binding, since the Dutch parliament already completed the procedure to ratify the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement back on July 7, 2015. However, the survey results have shaken their confidence.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has stated that although it is a non-binding referendum, the law requires the government to define its position and present that to parliament. But Rutte promised that his government would work to ensure a positive outcome, as that agreement is in the Netherlands’ best interests. And he tried to be clear that this document in no way represents Ukraine’s first step toward joining the EU: «We have these association agreements with countries in middle America, in the Middle East, and they are not applying for membership. Maybe for the Eurovision song contest, but not for the European Union».

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Guillaume Van der Loo, a researcher with the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels, noted that ignoring the results of the referendum will leave Mark Rutte’s cabinet vulnerable to his political opponents, who will be able to score points by claiming that Rutte does not hear the voice of his constituents. The fact that the referendum will take place while the Dutch hold the EU’s rotating presidency is another complicating factor. However, even assuming that the country totally refuses to ratify the agreement with Kiev, the EU will still be able to continue to use it as a «provisional application» that «could last forever». For Brussels that would even be convenient, as it would make it possible to keep Ukraine in limbo and offer an additional lever for exerting pressure on that country. But that would be extremely bad for Ukraine itself, since the Ukrainian economy would be unable to break free of many discriminatory restrictions during the transition period.

Sizing up the Dutch mood, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker noted that the referendum in the Netherlands «could open the doors to a continental crisis» and that Russia «stood to benefit most». In essence, these arguments suggest that the EU’s leaders feel that Ukraine’s interests are less important than their top priority – the benefits to the European Union, plus their motive of confronting Russia. If there are grounds for a pan-European crisis, Ukraine has little to do with it. That crisis would more likely be due to the differing viewpoints of European leaders vs. public opinion in Europe.

However, Kiev quickly seized upon Juncker’s statements about a possible «continental crisis» over Ukraine, using them for propaganda purposes. Journalist Yuri Romanenko even proposed the creation of a «SaveEU» foundation, tasked to «collect resources and wage an all-out campaign in the Dutch media, involving journalists, experts, and politicians, to discuss Ukrainian issues and to assemble a pool of bloggers who are fluent in the language and could work within Dutch social networks». He thinks that «if the Netherlands derail the association agreement, that would have truly serious consequences for both Ukraine and Europe».

However, the real question is: what kind of content will Kiev bring to the work of «saving Europe»? No one has yet come up with anything more rational than talking about the «hand of Moscow». For example, the Ukrainian media has reported that two members of the Dutch parliament have asked their Foreign Ministry to ascertain whether there are signs of Russian influence on the upcoming referendum on the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine. And they referred to an article in the British newspaper The Telegraph, which itself cited anonymous sources to claim that James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, has been instructed to conduct such a review. In other words, there are no «signs of influence, the «issue» is merely being studied. The only argument in favor of a «Russian fingerprint» is the fact that these arguments by the authors of the Dutch referendum are «too similar» to what Moscow is saying about the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. They act as if the flaws in that agreement are not apparent to any rational person, and the 430,000 Dutch citizens who signed the petition calling for the referendum (only 300,000 signatures were needed) have an insufficient grasp of what is happening!

There was a mistaken assumption that public opinion in the Netherlands would be sympathetic to Ukraine because of the findings of the work of the commission on the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down over Ukraine, primarily carrying Dutch passengers. Even accepting the scenario that militia members were to blame, the Dutch still wonder why Kiev did not close its combat-operations areas to civil aviation. For this reason, the Dutch public does not absolve the Ukrainian government of responsibility for what happened. Moreover, the Dutch Safety Board, which must publish its final report in February 2016 on the causes of the tragedy of flight MH17, rejected a proposal to include a note that Kiev had lobbied for, stating that the area near the town of Snezhnoe – the site from which the missile was presumably launched – was controlled by militia groups at the time of the incident.

The Ukrainian media seems to have somehow forgotten about the story of Boris Gumenyuk, the former deputy commander of an OUN volunteer battalion, who demanded 50 million euros when he offered to sell back to the Dutch some of their own paintings that had been stolen nearly 11 years ago from the Westfries Museum. At the time that crook even made reference to his connections with the leader of the Svoboda party, Oleh Tyahnybok and the former head of the SBU, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, and he vaguely hinted that the collection had been seized from «someone» from within Viktor Yanukovych’s circle. The incident was brought to Petro Poroshenko’s attention, where it was «buried». However, the Netherlands have not forgotten about this and their resentment toward the Ukrainian hustlers is still high.

One senses that the leaders in Kiev themselves have little faith in the future of European integration, placing a higher priority on their relations with the United States. For example, Kiev effectively dropped the ball during the meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Council in Brussels on Dec. 7, the last before the opening of the Free Trade Area. Poroshenko, who had been expected to attend the meeting, never showed up. Arseniy Yatsenyuk flew in accompanied only by his minister of justice, rushed through all the meetings, signed the proposed documents «without even looking at them», and left the same day for Kiev, although the program had been scheduled to include two days of weighty negotiations. The Ukrainian delegation did not even raise the issue of reviewing the very limited duty-free quotas that have been imposed on their country that affect some key exports. But the explanation is simple. US Vice President Joe Biden was in Kiev that day, and every Ukrainian leader was vying for an audience with him.

Then the Ukrainian presidential administration unexpectedly backtracked on their own previous agreement to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), instead proposing to delay this recognition for three years. Ratification of the ICC’s Rome Statute is one of the requirements of the EU Association Agreement. But Kiev has suddenly claimed that that statute poses certain risks for Ukraine, specifically, «from the point of view of Ukrainian soldiers who are forced to take part in the military conflict in the Donbass». They figured out that any investigation could lead to unwelcome findings for Ukrainian officials. The president of the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee, Mykola Gnatovskyy, claims that this is «legal nonsense», because Ukraine has already recognized the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over all events occurring during the armed conflict on its territory, and submitted this declaration to the ICC last August. On Feb. 4, 2015 the Verkhovna Rada adopted the declaration On the Recognition of the Jurisdiction of the ICC. On Sept. 8, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin tweeted«A historic moment. On behalf of the president, today I am presenting to the International Criminal Court a declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the ICC». And now he has to pretend that nothing of the sort actually happened.

Incidentally, the International Criminal Court is located in The Hague, and this issue about recognizing its jurisdiction does not add to Ukraine’s credibility in the eyes of the Dutch. This is hardly an example of «saving Europe»!

(to be continued)