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Georgian War and Coalition Collapse Threaten Ukraine's EU Ties

DPA news agency (kjb)September 4, 2008

Diplomats say that in the wake of the recent Georgian-Russian war and the apparent collapse of Ukraine's pro-Western ruling coalition, President Yushchenko is likely to push harder for a quick route to EU membership.

Monastery of Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine
The EU has said Kyiv is one of its best partnersImage: AP

At next week's EU-Ukraine summit in Evian, France, Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko is expected to argue that the Georgian crisis proves that the best way to free his country from Russia's grip is to join the EU.

It "wouldn't be a surprise" if Yushchenko cited the situation in Georgia to push for a rapid strengthening of ties with the EU, one source in the European Commission told DPA news agency.

Treaty talks

Officially, Tuesday's summit is intended to focus on negotiations for a sweeping cooperation treaty between the EU and Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko
Yushchenko threatened fresh electionsImage: AP

That "Enhanced Agreement" is aimed at giving Ukraine more EU support and better access to its markets and services in return for strengthening political, economic and social reforms. It is a deal which few other countries around the EU's rim can match.

"Ukraine is one of our best partners within the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP)," the Commission official said, referring to the EU's set of bilateral relations with its neighbors.

The summit, to be hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, should "give a decisive impulse" to the talks and "define the political framework of (our) new partnership," a statement from the presidency said.

Further secession concerns

But observers say that the recent war between Georgia and Russia over the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is likely to turn up the diplomatic heat.

Since the conflict, in which Ukraine sided with Georgia, fears have been raised in Kyiv that Russia could also push for a separatist movement in the Crimean peninsula, which is largely populated by ethnic Russians and is the home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.

Yushchenko has already suggested that the war should accelerate his country's progress towards the EU and NATO, which he sees as the best defense against any potential Russian moves.

Analysts also say that, facing a massive parliamentary rebellion and the fall of his government at home, he is keen to bring home from the summit a strong signal concerning Ukraine's future EU membership.

Membership not on agenda

Ukrainian riot police officers block anti-NATO demonstrators rallying to protest against NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's visit and Ukraine's efforts to join NATO
Not all Ukrainians favor NATO membershipImage: AP

But that is unlikely to play well in the EU, where Ukraine is seen as still falling short of EU standards in critical areas such as transparency, democracy and the rule of law.

EU diplomats point to the May 14 incident in which members of parliament loyal to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko physically stopped Yushchenko making his annual state-of-the-nation speech as a sign of the immaturity and instability of Ukrainian politics.

"Ukraine wanted an (EU) accession perspective in the talks. That's not on the agenda from this end," the commission official said.