Ponder these quotes on Thursday from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich “I would like to emphasize that Ukraine has no alternative to reforms and European integration” and moments later he added “We are moving this way and do not change our route.”
However after Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had returned from a meeting of CIS prime ministers in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday, he sounded more like a Prime Minister thinking of suspending efforts for EU integration and choosing to develop closer ties with Russia and other CIS countries.
Azarov’s travel to the CIS summit came after a secret meeting between Yanukovich and Vladimir Putin last week. President Yanukovich arrived in Austria on Thursday for a two-day state visit.
On his return from Russia, Prime Minister Azarov described the CIS meetings in glowing terms: “The agenda of the meeting was extremely intense. And it was one of the most successful meetings of Heads of Government. By the results of the meeting it was signed about thirty documents. They cover a range of cooperation: in electricity, health care, tourism sector, training of the teaching staff, information security, creating a single transport area in the CIS and others.”
Mr. Azarov explained that “…the main purpose of debates was the review of the execution of the Agreement on free trade between the CIS countries. This item was included into the agenda against our initiative – the initiative of Ukraine, which was supported by all Heads of Government of the CIS.”
Then came the abrupt announcement that Ukraine would turn towards Moscow, ensuring a major victory for Russia who has wooed Ukraine to join the Customs Union of several former Soviet Republics. The change comes only one week before an EU summit where the parties have been scheduled to sign an association agreement during the Vilnius Summit in Lithuania.
Meanwhile several Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) committees had been busy at work to bring various aspects of Ukrainian law into compliance with EU standards and just this past Tuesday the Chairman of the Parliament, Volodimir Rybak, hosted the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle in Kyiv. But key sticking points, including the EU’s demand for the release of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko may have pushed the Ukrainians back towards Moscow.
The progress of Ukraine’s fulfillment of commitments to the EU was discussed during the EU meetings in Kyiv and just this past Tuesday Chairman Rybak had stressed that Ukraine had no alternative and said that the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement would be signed next week.
However the Ukrainian government Thursday evening indicated that Ukraine would turn her back on the EU framework at the last-minute, choosing instead to join the Customs Union and developing trade agreements within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
For some time Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged Ukraine to return to her historically close ties to Moscow and one aim of the CIS trade talks in Saint Petersburg was to show Kyiv that Moscow was willing to increase economic trade and extend gas deals with Kyiv if the Ukrainian government would suspend preparations for a trade agreement with the EU.