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Opinion: Brussels yields to Moscow

The Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine will enter into force only at the end of 2015, in response to pressure from Russia. This puts Ukraine's future with the EU into question, writes DW's Bernd Johann.

It was a surprise turnaround. In recent days, the European Union further tightened its sanctions against Russia to compel Moscow to give way in the conflict over eastern Ukraine.

But shortly afterwards, Brussels and Kyiv postponed the planned implementation of a free-trade agreement that would form the basis of Ukraine's integration with the EU. They are hoping to gain time in order to take into account Russia's objections to the treaty. The EU is offering Moscow both carrot and stick.

Bernd Johann

Bernd Johann is head of DW's Ukrainian department

The decision was made in Brussels after a meeting between EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and the relevant ministers from Kyiv and Moscow. The conversation was brief, but the result says it all: Brussels and Kyiv will delay the full implementation of their association agreement until the end of 2015.

The move is intended to avoid a tariff war with Russia. And the EU hopes this will help bring about a peaceful solution in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow wants colonies, not partners

But 15 months is a very long time. Moscow has put forward over 2,000 objections to the agreement. By the time everything is negotiated, the conflict in eastern Ukraine could be frozen and the territory lost to Kyiv. The separatists, operating with Russian support, want to split the country and are taking advantage of the current ceasefire to consolidate their position.

Vladimir Putin

Russia's Vladimir Putin allegedly claimed his forces could be in Kyiv 'in two weeks'

The Kremlin has undermined Ukraine's path of EU integration from the very beginning. It doesn't consider Ukraine a sovereign state, but a Russian sphere of influence.

Moscow has long presented a counter-proposal to the EU with its Eurasian Union, and even more so with its customs union of former Soviet republics. A Europe-oriented Ukraine does not fit into this concept.

Negotiating in bad faith

So why should Russia have any serious interest in talks with Kyiv and Brussels? The EU and Ukraine have been negotiating for years. In that time, the Kremlin did nothing but throw up obstacles: First came political threats, then economic sanctions and finally Moscow took military action against Ukraine.

If all of Russia's objections to the EU association agreement were taken into account, there would probably not be much left of the treaty. Bringing Ukraine up to European standards should provide an incentive for urgently needed economic reforms. But this incentive is lost if the deal is put on the back burner.

A huge disappointment for Ukrainians

EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht (Photo: EPA/JULIEN WARNAND)

Karel De Gucht announced the treaty delay - but Moscow is likely to interpret the move as a sign of weakness

Hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine took to the streets last winter in the hopes of a European future for their country. They supported the planned association agreement.

That Brussels and Kyiv now want to postpone an essential part of this agreement, under pressure from Russia, must disappoint many Ukrainians. The agitated mood in Ukraine's war-torn east could trigger a new wave of protests directed not only against Russia, but probably also against the EU.

On Tuesday (16.09.2014), the European and Ukrainian parliaments will ratify the Association Agreement. But essential parts of the treaty are now on hold. The EU has bowed to pressure from Moscow. Ukraine can evidently become European only with the consent of Russia.

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