EU Adopts Deal That Ignited West’s Rift with Russia Rift: Ukraine’s Association Agreement
The European Council, the top decision-making body of the European Union, has approved Ukraine’s embattled Association Agreement with the EU – the deal that ignited the 2013-2014 pro-Western Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine leading Russia‘s leader Vladimir Putin to react by annexing Crimea and possibly aiding an insurgency in Donbass.
The EU – Ukraine Association Agreement was finally ratified by the Netherlands at the end of May 2017, the last EU member state to do so, after the country’s political leadership overrode the unfavorable decision of an advisory referendum.
Ukraine’s association deal with the EU was negotiated under Ukraine’s former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych who, however, at the end, possibly under pressure from Moscow, backtracked on signing it. This led to civic protests in the fall of 2013 and the winter of 2014.
The ensuing Euromaidan Revolution in Kyiv ousted Viktor Yanukovych and promised to bring Ukraine closer to the West, including through EU and NATO membership.
In response, led by President Vladimir Putin, in February-March 2014, Russia occupied and then annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea.
Shortly after Russia’s seizure of Crimea, a pro-Russian insurgency likely instigated and aided by Moscow began in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine. The war in Eastern Ukraine has been raging ever since. It has claimed some 10,000 lives, and has displaced millions of people.
In April 2016, the voters in the Netherlands, the only out of a total of 28 EU member states which had not ratified the EU’s association and trade deal with Ukraine, rejected it in an advisory, non-binding referendum acting out on Eurosceptic fears.
The referendum saw a turnout of 32.3%, passing the legal threshold of 30%, and 61% voted against the deal making the Netherlands the only EU member state not to have ratified the Ukrainian deal.
Nonetheless, the agreement entered into force conditionally, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte set out to convince the “No” voters by securing additional assurances for the Dutch citizens from the rest of the EU.
In another development in EU – Ukrainian relations, the EU recently granted the more than 40 million Ukrainian citizens visa-free travel in the Union and the Schengen Area in recognition of Ukraine’s will to reform.
Ukraine has also declared achieving NATO membership to be its top foreign policy goal.
The EU’s top decision-making institution, the European Council, adopted on Tuesday a decision to conclude the Association Agreement with Ukraine on behalf of the European Union.
The decision comes ahead of the EU-Ukraine summit scheduled to take place in Kyiv on July 12–13, the press service of the EU Council said.
It noted that the Council’s approval was the final step of the ratification process through which the EU and Ukraine commit to a close, long-term relationship in all main policy areas.
Thus, the Association and Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and the EU is to fully enter into force as of September 1, 2017.
The European Council points out that most of the Association Agreement is already operational.
Many political and sectoral parts of the agreement have been provisionally applied since September 1, 2014, while its trade part, the deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA), has been provisionally applied since January 1, 2016.
“The conclusion and entry into force of the agreement will now give a new impetus to the cooperation in areas such as foreign and security policy, justice, freedom and security (including migration) taxation, public finance management, science and technology, education and information society,” the European Council stated.
It emphasized that the signing of the deal in 2014 marked “a new state in the development of EU-Ukraine relations.”
“The Association Agreement is the main tool for bringing Ukraine and the EU closer together: it promotes deeper political ties, stronger economic links and the respect for common values. The economic part of the agreement, the DCFTA, offers Ukraine a framework for modernizing its trade relations and for economic development by opening up markets and harmonising laws, standards and regulations in various sectors. This will help align key sectors of the Ukrainian economy with EU standards,” the European Council elaborated.
Ivan Dikov, the founder of HeartlandHinterland.com, is the author of the book “Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together“, among other books.