This week is a fateful one for Ukraine’s relations with the West, with President Viktor Yanukovych visiting Brussels to attempt to restore momentum to the stalled process of completing a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. Lord Risby, an advocate of Ukrainian interests and an unofficial translator of British and European stances in Ukraine, knows more than most the likelihood of Ukraine convincing its European partners that it has achieved political stability.
Regrettably, those prospects are dim. The government is locked into an unfavourable gas deal with Russia, will not drop criminal charges against opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and is making slow progress reforming the state’s sclerotic bureaucracy and business environment. The attractiveness of the Eurasian Customs Union, if only for the prospect of a further gas price reduction, should not be underestimated.
Nonetheless, there are grounds for optimism if you accept that progress toward an Association Agreement with Europe is the long-term goal of Ukraine’s powerful business lobby and active younger generation. That in turn would impose strict requirements on Ukraine’s leaders to focus on institution-building and the rule of law. In the mean time, the socialisation of Ukraine continues apace with British High Court judges spending time with their Ukrainian counterparts through the Slynn Foundation.
Ultimately, the initiative will have to come from within Ukraine. The space bought by a recent deal with Shell over shale gas exploration may be the spur to this kind of reform, as might be the realisation that the economy can survive for only so long on an IMF-drip. However, the opaque logic of Ukraine’s ruthlessly competitively political culture may scupper the country’s European future.