Comment on the Sixth Russia-Ukraine-EU Ministerial Meeting

Submitted on Tue, 12/22/2015 - 00:00

Comment by the Information and Press Department on the Sixth Russia-Ukraine-EU Ministerial Meeting

The 6th ministerial meeting ended in Brussels on December 21. The participants discussed Russia’s concerns over Ukraine and EU planning to begin the provisional application of the trade part of the Association Agreement that they signed in 2014 starting January 1, 2016. With intensive consultations at the expert level, this format appeared after Brussels and Kiev, under the weight of Russia’s arguments, agreed, in September 2014, to postpone by one year the launch of the Association Agreement’s trade sections. At that point, there was hope that cooperative efforts would help maintain the mutually advantageous most favoured nation status between Russia and Ukraine, which came under serious threat in the wake of Ukraine assuming obligations under the Association Agreement.

Unfortunately, those hopes faded for a simple reason: none of our partners were even thinking about negotiating or looking for a compromise with Russia. Essentially, what Brussels and Kiev sought to achieve was to convince Russia that its concerns were "groundless". They weren’t planning to meet us halfway. The EU and Ukraine flat-out refused to make any possible outcome of the talks legally binding, bringing all their proposals down to continued monitoring of the situation and the creation of more working groups that weren’t authorised to make any decisions. With the tacit blessing of the European Commission and in violation of the September 2014 agreements, Ukraine continued to implement the provisions of the "frozen" part of the Association Agreement in its legislation.

Despite the clearly futile attempts to hold any kind of talks under these circumstances, we strived to maintain the dialogue until recently. The Russian delegation has consistently pointed out the risks posed by the actions of Kiev and Brussels for the free trade arrangement that has existed between Russia and Ukraine over the past 25 years. Following the December 21 meeting, Russia’s Minister of Economic Development, Alexey Ulyukayev, said: "There are many countries that are members of two free trade zones. But there are no countries that are members of two different technical and veterinary regulation, or customs control systems."

We pointed out specific problems in the area of technical regulations, sanitary and phytosanitary control, or customs cooperation, which could be resolved only through joint efforts, and we indicated the unacceptability of discriminating against Russian companies in the new post-Association Agreement economic reality in Ukraine.

In response, our partners engaged in disingenuous talks and obvious tactical manipulations designed to gain time and eventually place Russia before an accomplished fact: the trade part of the Association Agreement enters into force on January 1, 2016 regardless of the outcome of the so-called "talks". Brussels has been trying to prove that the Association Agreement is not any different than other widely used free trade agreements, while Kiev has been in every way trying to downplay the importance of Russian-Ukrainian trade and economic relations and to portray Ukraine’s "bright future" once its domestic market opens to EU goods.

Aside from the myth that the Association Agreement is good for Ukraine, we cannot prevent the current Ukrainian authorities from damaging their own country by undermining and subjugating its economy to external forces. It’s up to Ukraine. It is, as the bureaucrats in Kiev and Brussels say, its "sovereign choice". It is not clear though why Russia should be paying for this choice. We have our own economic interests, which we are not going to abandon to accommodate someone else’s ambitions.

Most importantly, hard-liners in the EU and Ukraine have led the talks into an impasse thus causing an unprecedented and problematic situation. Similarly unprecedented decisions were required to set it straight, but neither Brussels nor Kiev have the courage, or political will, or diplomatic wisdom to make them. Also, the EU was trying to avoid responsibility for what happens, constantly presenting matters in such a way that the problems need to be resolved not in a trilateral, but a bilateral Russian-Ukrainian format, reserving for itself the role of "impartial judge". We’ll be hearing more of this in the comments to be provided by Brussels following the talks that will bear no fruit through its own stance.

Under the circumstances, Russia is forced to take actions in order to level the risks to our economy and to ensure the protection of our legitimate interests.

22 December 2015