EU and Ukraine adopt Association Agreement, with concession to Russia

Yesterday on September 16 the European Parliament (EP), as well as the Verkhovna Rada – the Ukrainian Parliament, - ratified the European Union (EU)-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA). Last year this issue triggered the outbreak of a political crisis in Ukraine that led to the overthrow of then President Viktor Yanukovych, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and a war with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine that has to date killed more than 2,600 people. As a concession to Moscow the AA’s trade rules will not enter into force on 1 November as originally planned, but will be delayed until 31 December 2015.

Ratification EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

The Association Agreement that was ratified yesterday brings the EU and Ukraine one step closer to the establishment of a deep political association and free-trade area. The majority of Members of European Parliament (MEPs) backed the agreement, with 535 votes in favour, 127 against and 35 abstentions. EP President Martin Schulz called the mutual ratification an “historic moment.” “The two parliaments freely determined to vote today at the same time on this agreement. This is free democracy, the opposite of directed democracy. The European Parliament has always defended the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and will continue to do so,” he added.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko told his members of Parliament in Kyiv that by ratifying this agreement with the EU, "the Ukrainians have reversed the express-train going East [...]. Our synchronised ratifications will be a feast, not just for Ukraine but also for Europe because without Ukraine there is no united Europe."

Last Friday 12 September the EU, Ukraine and Russia agreed in tripartite talks to delay the provisional entry into effect of the trade rules until the end of next year. This as a concession to Russia, which would like to see Ukraine joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Moscow threatened to block Ukrainian goods if Kyiv lowers its trade barriers with Brussels. The Union then decided that it would allow Ukraine to maintain its current tariffs until early 2016 but Kyiv would still have to undertake major economic and political reforms as part of the agreement.

To take full legal effect, the deal has to be ratified by the 28 EU member states. So far it has only been ratified in six member states. It may take several years for the process to be completed in all member states, and thus for the AA to officially enter into force.

Ukraine’s Parliament adopted two laws to temporarily keep the peace

Besides ratifying the Association Agreement with the Union, Ukraine’s Parliament - on President Poroshenko’s initiative - yesterday likewise adopted two ambitious and highly debated laws. Kyiv hopes that by offering the pro-Russian separatists more, the fragile peace will be maintained. Poroshenko said that the proposals will pave the way for decentralisation while guaranteeing "the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence" of Ukraine.

The first law enables greater autonomy for parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions for a period of three years by granting them a “special status.” It allows local elections to be held in some districts in the regions on 7 December of this year. Furthermore, regional councils receive the power to appoint local judges and prosecutors. Moreover, the law allows for the use of the Russian language – Donetsk and Luhansk are two mainly Russian-speaking regions – in state institutions. Ukraine has also promised to help restore damaged infrastructure as well as to provide social and economic assistance to particularly hard-hit areas.

The second law grants amnesty to participants in the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk, except for those pro-Russian rebels who have committed “serious crimes.” The adoption of these controversial bills sparked some criticism. Mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadovy said that if granted the “special status,” “those guilty of the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians” will get more authority. Yulia Tymoshenko - leader of the political party Batkivshchyna – called the two laws “humiliating and betraying.” Independent lawmaker Anatoly Hrytsenko critically observed the voting procedure, noting that the board that is supposed to show the voting results was turned off at the moment when the vote on the two laws was being conducted. As a consequence, the lawmakers could not see the voting process.

Violations of the cease-fire

Ukraine’s outreach came in response to the revival of hostilities in the past few days. Today, shelling in Donetsk killed two people and wounded three others. Last Friday, the Ukrainian army claims to have successfully defended the airport in Donetsk from an attack by pro-Russian rebels in one of the largest battles since the cease-fire was declared on 5 September.  

The latest fighting comes as Ukraine's prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, accused Russia's president - Vladimir Putin - of wanting to destroy Ukraine as an independent country and resurrect the Soviet Union. Speaking at a conference of European politicians, he said his country was “in a stage of war” with the Kremlin and he similarly accused Moscow of aiming for another frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Sources: The Guardian (1), (2), (3), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), KyivPost, European Union Neighbourhood Info Centre

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