EU Told to Embrace Ukraine and Reject Russia's "Strong-Arm" Attempts to Block Association Agreement

Sep 18, 2013, 06:04 ET from Ukraine Monitor

PARIS, September 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --

The European Union should sign a trade and partnership accord with Ukraine or risk driving it into the arms of Russia, which is employing "Kremlin-era strong-arm tactics" to pressure Kiev on the eve of it signing an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU.

That was the warning delivered by senior European statesmen at a conference at the French Academie Diplomatique in Paris on Tuesday, held just ten weeks before the planned signing ceremony of the AA in Vilnius, Lithuania.

"The heavy-handed interference by Russia in the Vilnius process will not work," said former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, citing threats and "Kremlin-era strong-arm tactics" that were being used by Moscow to intimidate Ukraine.

"If Europe does not vote for Ukraine, it risks driving it into the arms of Russia against the will of around 80 percent of Ukrainians who believe their destiny lies in Europe," he told the French foreign policy and media establishment. "Russian policy toward Ukraine is badly advised, will not produce the desired effect and is strengthening the EU's commitment to Ukraine," he added.

Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who in 2004 oversaw the biggest enlargement of the EU as President of the European Commission, reminded the 28 member states that Ukraine is a vital bridge between east and west, which will be strengthened by its stronger economic ties with the EU.

"We're talking about a doubling of bilateral trade from 40 to 80 billion euros per year," he said, referring to the free trade deal that goes with the Association Agreement.

"A Ukraine that is economically strong is a stronger bridge between east and west," he said.

In the next few weeks former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox will deliver to the European Parliament their report on Ukraine's reform process, which will be crucial in determining Kiev's fate in Vilnius.

Mr. Kwasniewski said Ukraine had fulfilled most of the conditions on judicial and electoral reforms, and noted that he hoped a compromise on the issue of selective justice would also be found. While hoping for a solution on this last point, Mr. Kwasniewski noted that "Ukraine needs Europe and Europe needs Ukraine."

Kwasniewski also reminded the audience that an Association Agreement is not EU membership, but merely the start of a process that could take more than a decade to complete, but with little cost to EU taxpayers.

The conference heard from MPs from both sides of Ukrainian politics who have been working together to pass bills essential for Kiev's chances.

"We are passing legislation with the support of 400 MPs out of 450," said MP Yulia Lyovochkina.

She said at the start of the month, five bills crucial to Ukraine's European aspirations were passed in a single day; a reminder Ukraine will be ready for Vilnius in November.

SOURCE Ukraine Monitor