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The Home Stretch

On the day after the elections in 2006 in Ukraine, someone asked Yulia Tymoshenko if she had already started talks with Viktor Yushchenko on a coalition between their parties. She said that she was sleeping with the phone, waiting for the call.

November 13, 2013 - Paweł Kowal - Articles and Commentary



Today, President Viktor Yanukovych sleeps with his phone under his pillow – and it is time for José Barroso and Angela Merkel to make the call to remind him of the EU offer. They shall send a reminder about Vilnius, the real support of the International Monetary Fund, as well as the abolition of visas for Ukrainian citizens to travel to the EU.

There is something in the psychology of the last moments of a negotiation. There shouldn’t be an impression that only Vladimir Putin persuades. The Ukrainian public opinion should get a signal that the EU does not abdicate, that it is fighting for the future of this important area of the continent. This emphasis is important for the EU. The EU must show that it has political goals, that it is not a passive, clerical bulk, but can compete with others.

John Kerry understands this geopolitical competition. During his visit to Warsaw he clearly declared that Ukraine cannot be left alone in difficult times. Radosław Sikorski is right that the Association Agreement could be signed a few months later – but we can do it also tomorrow. The document is prepared, translated and waiting for signatures.

But there is also a political element: next year will bring elections within the EU. There will be new politicians responsible for the cooperation with Ukraine. The successor to Štefan Füle could be much less favourable to the countries of the Eastern Partnership. Perhaps it will be a politician from the south of the continent, set on political engagement in the Mediterranean. The year 2015 will be a year with a presidential election in Ukraine – nobody will want to get involved in the internal situation in the country, and the signing of the Association Agreement can be interpreted this way. If we will not sign the agreement in Vilnius, the next opportunity will probably be in 2016. In today’s political environment this moment is too distant and uncertain.

Yulia Tymoshenko shows class in her statements. She does not want for Ukraine to not sign the Agreement. She does not give the authorities an excuse that she was the reason for not signing it. That’s why she accepts a compromise worked out by Pat Cox and Aleksander Kwaśniewski. Tymoshenko gives away a part of her position not because she is afraid of further imprisonment, but not signing the Agreement will also have an influence on her situation. The most important game is not negotiating with President Yanukovych and the question of who will be the winner of the political chess – however, there is still a chance for everyone to proclaim victory. The most important is the aim and timing. With her declarations, Tymoshenko creates a space for tactical concessions for the West and shows the most important strategic goal: the Association Agreement, which establishes new rules both in relations with the EU and inside Ukraine itself. And the time between signing and ratification provides an additional two years to resolve the problems that remain.

I saw president Yanukovyvh twice last week. He was tired. Some of his problems are his own fault, but it does not change the fact that he has a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, there is pressure from the Kremlin – the meetings with Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Sochi and Moscow were not easy. It is interesting that none of them took place in Ukraine. On the other hand, there is the distance of the European leaders during a crucial moment of the negotiations; despite the EU’s efforts in recent years and months. As if the EU does not understand that the Association Agreement is not a Christmas gift for the Party of Regions, but a real mechanism of modernisation for millions of Europeans who live by Dnieper. Giving the European chance to the Ukrainians is a moral obligation for everyone who considers him or herself a European.

By the way – if the contract will not be signed in Vilnius, historians will not understand why the EU capitulated on the home stretch, when it was all about words and interpretations of the document lying on the table. Therefore, we need a move like Solana’s actions during the Orange Revolution: sometimes one has to return to the place, talk again and demonstrate the opportunities that exist. However, instead of the effect of the Orange Revolution, we risk a repetition of 2008. The NATO summit in Bucharest, for example, had a double effect: the Alliance undermined its reputation in the East and gave Russia time to manoeuvre. If today the EU will make a decision in a similar way and postpone the signing of the agreement, it will mean well. But the Kremlin may interpret it as permission for further persuasion.

Historians will not understand one more thing – why don’t any of the Ukrainian president’s advisors understand that the idea that freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko could be an advantage. Showing that he can afford such a gesture at a crucial moment in the history of the country could be a great asset to him. Maybe he will still do it? I do not know who the EU leaders would prefer as Ukraine’s president: Yanukovych, Tymoshenko or Sergei Tihipko. But I do know that in politics there is no place for such sentiments and on the home stretch of the negotiations the most important is the final result.

The Polish president calls Viktor Yanukovych from time to time and tries to convince him. The President of Lithuania is also active in this regard. If there is no one in Brussels or Berlin willing to make this call to Yanukovych; what kind of politicians are we? And what EU do we really want to build?

Paweł Kowal is a member of the Editorial Board of New Eastern Europe. He is a Polish politician and member of the European Parliament where he chairs the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee. He is also an adjunct at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

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