Updated at 19:48,25-10-2020

EU encouraged to enhance Eastern Partnership

By Andrey Fyodaraw, BelaPAN

Unrest in Ukraine may prompt Brussels to review its policy with regard to the European Union’s eastern neighbors, including Belarus, regardless of opposition from Russia.

EU seems more assertive

Brussels seems to be seeking a more assertive role in Ukraine and other eastern neighbors. It is unclear whether its new approach is linked to recent disparaging comments by US diplomat Victoria Nuland.

The European Parliament and EU foreign ministers in separate statements warned Ukraine of possible sanctions, called on the Ukrainian leader to form a new government and launched constitutional reforms. The EU also offered aid to Ukraine to weather the economic crisis.

Finally, the EU's 28 foreign ministers stressed that the EU was ready to sign an association agreement with Ukraine, noting that it was not the ultimate goal of relations between Brussels and Kyiv.

The remark can be interpreted as a long-awaited signal that all of EU’s six eastern partners can join the EU in the future.

Opposition from Kremlin

Brussels has actually acknowledged that its earlier policy of limited engagement was not effective.

Clearly, the main reason for setbacks was Moscow’s opposition to closer ties between former Soviet republics and the EU.

For instance, Russia offered Ukraine $15 billion in aid last year but froze it when Ukraine's opposition made some gains.

As a result of apparent political pressure from Moscow, an overwhelming majority of voters in a referendum held in the autonomous Moldovan region of Gagauzia voted on February 3 for integration with a Russia-led customs union.

Russia may also make an effort to prevent Georgia from signing an association agreement with the EU.

Some EU members are pressing for a European package for the bloc’s eastern partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The paper en titled "20 Points on the Eastern Partnership Post-Vilnius," sketched out by 12 EU members, including Sweden, Germany, Britain and Poland, stresses the need for a "well-coordinated EU response to possible actions" by Russia that could include trade embargoes, restrictions against migrant workers, and increased tensions in protracted conflicts.

Although the document stops short of calling for future EU membership for some or all of the Eastern neighbors, it does say that the EU should start "exploring some sort of 'European package' as a station beyond the association agreements."

Appeals to embrace values should be substantiated

The EU does not have money for Ukraine’s unreformed economy as it is, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said at EU foreign ministers’ meeting on February 10. EU officials realize that aid can be stolen or wasted.

On the other hand, if the Ukrainian leader is cornered, he may order a brutal crackdown on protesters. Fighting may have bad consequences and cause the country to split.

In addition to political pressure on the Ukrainian leader, Brussels should boost local economic ties with Ukraine using its Eastern Partnership program. The move would be less expensive, but it would help increase local support for rapprochement with the EU.

In 2009-2010, Brussels made a mistake by rejecting all specific proposals by Minsk on economic cooperation within the Eastern Partnership, including projects involving Lithuania and Ukraine.

Although its approval of those proposals would not help avert the December 2010 crackdown on post-election protesters in Minsk, the EU definitely missed a good opportunity.

Ukrainian protests may prompt the EU to adopt a more assertive approach to cooperation with all eastern partners, something that could encourage EU membership advocates in Belarus and other countries.