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Europe

Opinion: Kyiv snubs Europe

Politicians in Kyiv are endangering their country's European future, says DW's Bernd Johann. Ukraine has succumbed to Russian pressure and given the European Union the cold shoulder.

It was a rapid reversal - and a snub against the European Union. One week ahead of a crucial summit in Vilnius, the government in Kyiv put a stop to further talks on an EU Association Agreement. The Ukrainian parliament simultaneously also snubbed its partners in Europe by rejecting several bills that would have allowed imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to be released.

Bernd Johann

Bernd Johann heads Deutsche Welle's Ukrainian service

Brussels and Kyiv worked on the agreement for years. Hundreds of pages of the contract are ready and on the table, lacking only signatures.

Now suddenly, there is talk in Kyiv of national security interests that require a revitalization of relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has even suggested that Moscow should be included in the talks with the EU. It is clear: Ukraine has bowed to the intense pressure from Moscow.

President Yanukovych opts for Moscow

This development had been looming for days. The leadership in Kyiv was playing a double game. The parliamentary debates were just a diversionary tactic for dealing with the EU. While Kyiv 's European partners explained the need for special laws in the Tymoshenko case, and by so doing, repeatedly underscored their interest in an association agreement with Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych had long been pursuing an alternative plan. He met several times with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Little is known about what transpired in those talks, but the outcome is now clear.

The Kremlin has long expressed its displeasure over closer ties between Ukraine and Europe. In the manner of an imperialist sovereign, Russia has instigated outright trade wars against Ukraine in recent months. Sometimes these took the form of bans on food imports from Ukraine; at other times Moscow threatened Kyiv with a cut in natural gas deliveries: Energy relations could be reconsidered, it said, if Ukraine aligned itself with the EU. The Kremlin already showed how that works a few years ago, when it turned off the gas taps in the middle of winter. The people of Ukraine froze.

The EU has failed - for now

Threatened by the EU's policy toward its eastern neighbors, the Kremlin is pressuring its "near abroad" into a customs union. This currently consists of Belarus and Kazakhstan and is supposed to work according to strict rules laid down by the Kremlin. From Moscow's perspective, this customs union is incomplete without Ukraine. After Russia, Ukraine is the most populous country on the territory of the former Soviet Union and especially important economically.

The politicians' reversal in Kyiv is a serious setback for the EU. Brussels is all too aware of Ukraine's precarious situation. The EU countries want to stabilize the country politically and economically. One way to do this would be with energy supplies from EU countries. Only then could Ukraine one day fully exercise its sovereignty and step out of Moscow's shadow.

At present, it lacks this independence. That is why the European project for Ukraine has initially been rejected. And there is little to suggest that the EU Association Agreement can again be set in motion before the Vilnius summit. It is Russia that will determine the fate of Ukraine in the near future - and the leadership in Kyiv will play second fiddle to the Kremlin.

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