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27 May, 2013 17:00   ▪  

Yanukovych’s charter diplomacy with the EU and the Customs Union

On May 26, Viktor Yanukovych visited Russia and met with Vladimir Putin. No official statements or agreements were disclosed subsequently. Earlier, the media reported that Yanukovych has a meeting with the Customs Union member-state leaders in Astana scheduled for May 28-29 under the framework of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, and the memorandum on Ukraine’s status as an observer in the Customs Union could be signed at the next meeting of EurAsEC member-state leaders.

“Ukraine uses talks with the Customs Union (while it doesn’t actually need these talks) to blackmail the EU a little more, to show that we will move towards the Customs Union unless the Association Agreement and FTA are signed,” comments Volodymyr Fesenko, Director at the Penta Centre for Political Studies. Meanwhile, European integration is used as a tool of pressure in talks with Russia, Fesenko claims. “In my opinion, however, the Russians themselves don’t really believe that the Association Agreement will be signed eventually…Then, Yanukovych will be easier to persuade to join the Customs Union… So far, however, he is playing this sort of charter democracy, meeting with Europeans, then with Putin, or going to the meeting in Astana in this given case. Then, more activity in the West and meetings with Europeans will follow, with subsequent meetings with post-Soviet leaders… We are not at the stage of integration processes when specific priorities have to be chosen. It looks like Ukraine has chosen one – European integration. Still, the game continues. This is a tactical rather than strategic game. This must be a way for Yanukovych to get some concessions from Europeans, such as the signing of the Association Agreement without releasing Tymoshenko… With Putin and the Customs Union, the goal must be to get some concessions as well, and a special status for Ukraine in relations with the Customs Union,” Fesenko notes. “The Customs Union is quite likely to grant Ukraine the observer status, but Russia will decide this. I think the final decision will be made in Astana or a day before the meeting there,” Fesenko comments. 

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“This shadow policy, obscure in terms of what is discussed, and when, raises concern,” notes Oleksandr Sushko, Research Director at the Institute of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. In his comment on Ukraine’s possible status as an observer in the Customs Union, Sushko says that there are currently no official acts specifying the details of this status. In his opinion, even if Russia agreed to grant Ukraine the observer status, it would like to define this as a temporary status for a country seeking full membership in the Customs Union. “Thus, the observer status would somehow replace the EU candidate status. And the country that gets this status would thus declare its intention to become a full-fledged Customs Union member,” Sushko notes. “So far, talks with Putin or even possible observer status without full membership in the Customs Union do not pose real threats to the Association Agreement. This is exactly because the observer status does not require the country to consolidate its foreign policy with the Customs Union as its full member. When a country joins the Customs Union, it undertakes all external rules existing there. As a result, it can no longer sign any free trade agreements on its own, and FTA is part of the Association Agreement.”

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