What is Plan ”B”?
Some key politicians engaged in Ukraine’s integration process have recently made a decisive statement.
Without the release of Ukraine’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (or at least allowing her to be treated in Germany), there will be no signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the Europe Union at the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit, scheduled to take place in late November this year in Vilnius.
In parallel, Russia, has been issuing some warning statements against the EU’s “terrible” influences and its alternative to them – the Eurasian Union. Here, a question emerges: is there really a threat to Ukraine’s integration with the EU? Or, perhaps what we’ve been hearing with some intensity recently is a cry of despair of EU officials who are desperately searching for success before the Vilnius Summit?
Evidently, Russia has been leading an information offensive against Ukraine and is actively promoting its project, which is meant to serve as an alternative to the EU – the Eurasian Union – to effectively discourage Kyiv from integrating with Europe. The main role in this game is played by the main economic advisor of Vladimir Putin, Sergey Glazyev, who continuously prophesies the oncoming catastrophe. While speaking at the Yalta European Strategy forum, organised yearly by the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, and attracting leaders and politicians from all over the world, Glazyev bluntly said: “The level of life will dramatically go down, which will lead to chaos.” Glazyev also threatened the collapse of the Ukrainian state.
Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has uttered a somewhat different opinion by saying that although he was not expecting to see many benefits from a Ukraine-EU cooperation, he still wished Ukraine good luck. And while such is the view of Russia’s prime minister, its president Vladimir Putin elaborates on the bright future of the Eurasian Union as he did when talking at the annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club: “The Eurasian integration is a chance for the states of the post-Soviet space to become an independent centre of global development and not Europe’s or Asia’s periphery.”
The debate on this issue is also quite heated in the media, as reflected, among others, in the strong words uttered on the state-owned Russian television channel Rossiya by Dmitry Kiselev, who described Ukraine’s resignation from Russian markets for the sake of European markets as a form of “euthanasia”. Adding, that only in the case of Ukraine euthanasia is not a conscious decision but a lie about the future prosperity, which the Ukrainians were supposed to be spoon-fed with.
In response to these attacks, the EU started its own less aggressive information offensive. Its goal is quite clear: pressure president Viktor Yanukovych to release the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. “We have a few proposals on how to get out of this situation. And we’ve presented them to our Ukrainian partners. Not only once, but twice. Now we are expecting President Yanukovych to act” – said in an interview with the Ukrainian independent television channel TVi with former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox, now also a member, with Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Poland’s former president) of the monitoring mission to Ukraine. Cox’s statement, in fact, reflects the main change in regards to the moderate rhetoric of EU officials, which we were used to hearing on Ukraine before.
In the same vein, Poland’s current president Bronisław Komorowski, known for so long for his excessively positive opinion of Ukraine’s current government, admitted that Tymoshenko’s case is an obstacle in Ukraine’s way to signing the Association Agreement. On the day Komorowski expressed his opinion on this matter, Polish politician and member of the European Parliament, Paweł Kowal, told the Russian non-governmental news agency Interfaks that Brussels has been really getting impatient with regards to Ukraine. This state of impatience is a result of Ukraine refusing to agree to any compromise with the EU, and this despite Brussels very decidedly supporting Ukraine’s side in its trade war with Russia, when Moscow blocked Ukrainian goods during the summer this year. A compromise would, of course, mean making some progress in Tymoshenko’s case.
Such also is the opinion of Kommersant journalist, Serhiy Sydorenko, who believes that since the EU has not lowered its expectations with respect to Ukraine, Tymoshenko should be released before the Association Agreement is signed. Sydorenko brings up Štefan Füle’s, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, overtly optimistic opinions about Ukraine which, given the fact that not long ago Füle was quite blunt on Yanukovych’s government, were not very well-received “even by some of his friends in Brussels”.
If not an agreement, then what?
These and other statements made recently by European politicians on Ukraine come across as one more attempt to put pressure on Viktor Yanukovych who seems not to know whether by “playing” with Tymoshenko’s case he deprives Ukraine of chances of EU integration. Such fears are not groundless. We still don’t know why, for example, Cox and Kwaśniewski postponed announcing the results of their monitoring mission to Ukraine by a month? Was it because if they announced the results today, they would have to include a statement that Ukraine is not ready to sign an agreement? Or have they just been playing with time? Uncertainty seems to also be the state that more and more characterises Yanukovych himself, whose recent statements suggest that, in fact, Tymoshenko’s release is still possible.
And yet, regardless of Yanukovych’s position it is also highly possible that Tymoshenko’s case will not have an influence on the future of the Association Agreement. The EU has to a certain extent become stuck in a dead end over Ukraine due to Russia’s recent anti-EU campaign which, undoubtedly, has led to an increase in anxiety over the fate of Eastern Europe. Seemingly, now the only solution is to sign and ratify the Association Agreement. Should this not happen, Brussels, clearly does not have a Plan “B”. In other words it lacks a new plan for cooperation and maintaining its influence over Ukraine. The only alternative now is Ukraine’s integration with the Eurasian Union, whose influence – willingly or not – Ukraine will probably quickly need to succumb to, should the results of the Vilnius Summit be different than everybody expects them to be.
Translated by Iwona Reichardt
Paweł Pieniążek is a journalist specialising in Eastern Europe. He is a contributor with the Polish daily Dziennik Opinii, New Eastern Europe, the Polish magazine W Punkt and the portal Zaxid.net.