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Is Russia’s Trade War Ukraine’s Golden Ticket to the EU?

August 21, 2013 - Nina Jankowicz - Bez kategorii

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If Russia places an embargo on your country’s most popular edible exports, chances are the Kremlin is none too pleased with you. Moscow’s most recent political collateral is Ukrainian chocolate, banned from the Russian market July 29th. This week, Russia stopped importing Ukrainian goods almost entirely.

After claiming to find traces of the carcinogen benzopyrene in Ukrainian sweets, Russia’s consumer standards agency, Rospotrebnadzor, stopped the import of chocolates from Ukraine’s infamous Roshen company, which garners about 40 million US dollars in profit from the Russian market per year. The confectioner’s other top markets – Moldova, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus – continued to import the chocolate, however, as they found no evidence of carcinogens.

In the past, Russia’s political disagreements have sparked embargoes on Polish meat (Russian babushki could only dream of Polish kielbasa from 2005-2007), Belarusian dairy, and Georgian wine (happily returning to the Russian market this year).

Ukraine, however, was not lucky enough to escape with only one affected market. Yesterday, Moscow launched what many are describing as a full-on trade war against Kyiv. All Ukrainian goods have been labelled potentially dangerous, and are subject to lengthy inspections before crossing the border into the territory of the Eurasian Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

As Ukraine’s economy is heavily reliant on exports, 23.7 per cent of which go to Russia, this is a serious issue for Kyiv, but not entirely unexpected. Moscow’s seemingly drastic actions are intended to pressure Ukraine into shunning the European Union’s offers of Free Trade and Association Agreements in favour of beefing up its ties with Russia and joining the Eurasian Customs Union.

It’s a poorly thought out move on Russia’s part. Although the cessation of Russian exports could be devastating to Ukraine’s economy, Russia’s bullying might finally inspire the EU to decisive action; Ukraine has had a less than stellar reform record and has done little to curry favour with Brussels, so hopes for an Association Agreement at the Eastern Partnership’s Vilnius Summit this autumn are murky at best.

But Russia’s pressure on the Ukrainian economy – not to mention the obvious motivation behind it – has a chance of awakening the EU’s hero gene, which has played a decisive role in the dissipation of regional conflicts in Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine itself in the past ten years. The Russian government’s short-term memory is shockingly bad; its economic strong-arming was one of the major causes of the Orange Revolution. This time around, the EU has the bureaucratic structure (the EaP) and a few well-respected pro-Ukraine cheerleaders (Poland and Sweden) which will look past Ukraine’s failings and use an Association Agreement as a shield against an increasingly aggressive Russia.

It seems that among its “carcinogenic” chocolate, Ukraine has found its golden ticket to the West.

This article was first published on Wiczipedia and kindly re-published with the author's permission.

Nina Jankowicz received her MA from the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES) at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and her BA from Bryn Mawr College, where she double majored in Political Science and Russian. Nina is the creator and author behind Wiczipedia.

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