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Dim expectations for 'Eastern Partnership'

The EU's summit with a number of former Soviet republics will likely disappoint some participants. Brussels is simply not willing to take the steps that Kyiv and Tiflis had hoped for.

Ukraine and Georgia have high hopes for the so-called Eastern Partnership Summit taking place on May 21 and 22 in the Latvian capital, Riga (meeting venue pictured above). Other Eastern Partnership participants include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and the Republic of Moldova. The EU program encourages closer political, economic and social ties among the partners, while at the same time supporting political and socio-economic reform. Brussels wants to bring the six former Soviet republics closer to the EU without actually admitting them to the Union.

Kyiv's hope in vain

No doubt the crisis in Ukraine will be the theme that dominates the summit. Ukraine's EU Ambassador Konstantin Yeliseyev said that the meeting in Riga will show, "whether the right lessons have been drawn from the past, as well as from the events of the last year." Since Brussels wants to convince the Kremlin that the Eastern Partnership is not a threat to Russia, one cannot expect that the EU will make any announcements critical of Moscow during the Riga meetings.

Beyond that the EU has made it clear that the situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has in no way altered its stance on Kyiv's "European perspective." Ukraine seeks EU accession, however, it cannot count on further European rapprochement in the near future beyond the free trade and association treaties that already exist.

At best, it can hope for a positive evaluation of its efforts toward visa liberalization. Ukraine wants its citizens to be able to travel to the EU without a visa in the future, and Ambassador Yeliseyev emphasized that Kyiv has already fulfilled 10 of the EU's 15 stipulated criteria. According to him, the visa requirement could be dropped soon, but observers no longer expect that to happen this year.

Georgia has to wait, Moldova moves up

Georgia is of the opinion that it has already fulfilled the EU's criteria for doing away with visa requirements. Tbilisi points to a report by the European Commission outlining specific reform steps.

Therefore, the Georgian government has drafted a letter to EU state and government leaders. In the letter, Tiflis calls for the liberalization of visa requirements in order to deepen relations. Further, they state that they hope that the summit in Riga will open a "European perspective" for their country. Yet preliminary outcome documents from the summit suggest that this is not to be expected anytime soon. Observers in Tiflis think that Georgia has become a "victim of solidarity," and will only receive visa liberalization from the EU when Ukraine does.

On the other hand, Moldova, which, like Georgia and Ukraine, also has association treaties with the EU, can expect a liberalization of visa requirements.

Karte Östliche Partnerschaft der EU

The European Union and countries of the Eastern Partnership

No agreement between Yerevan and Baku

In Armenia hopes for the summit are vague. According to Armenian observers, their government intends to make it clear in Riga that despite its cooperation in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) it is not turning away from the EU, and that a number of areas where it cooperates with the EU are actually quite compatible with its EAEU membership.

The EAEU is a single market customs union dominated by Russia, and to which Belarus and Kazakhstan also belong. Following Yerevan's announcement that it had joined the EAEU, the previously negotiated free-trade and association treaty between the EU and Armenia could go unsigned as membership in the Eurasian customs union is not compatible with the EU treaty.

Azerbaijan has no special expectations for the summit, either. Though Baku's government was relieved to hear the announcement of EU intentions to adjust the six member block concept and restructure the Eastern Partnership more individually. Baku already stated that it had no intention of signing association treaties with the EU in 2013. It prefers individual agreements, such as those which outline cooperation in the energy sector.

Belarusian expectations

One could describe Belarusian expectations toward the summit as low. Rapprochement with the EU in the area of visa liberalization is not on the slate in Riga. According to observers in Minsk, Belarus seeks to better its economic ties with the EU without wanting to alter the architecture of its foreign relations.

The EU has attached demands for the end of repression and the release of political prisoners to economic negotiations with Minsk. On one hand, the EU has sanctions in place against the government representatives responsible for such repression, on the other, it continues to support Belarus civil society. Observers say that there could be negotiations behind the scenes in Riga over a partial lifting of those sanctions.

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