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Brussels sees new Ukraine-EU deal despite political crisis

The European Commission said the current internal political crisis in Ukraine will not affect negotiations for a new enhanced agreement between Kiev and Brussels.

„Ukraine is in a position to settle its current political crisis by itself,” Christiane Hohmann, the European Commission’s spokeswoman for external relations, told New Europe on April 4, refusing to comment on Ukraine’s internal politics. „The talks about the new enhanced agreement with Ukraine should tell you that we trust the Ukrainian politicians to short it out,” she said. Political pundits point out that both sides in Ukraine’s internal political struggle have made mistakes in the past, but they have to reach a mutually acceptable solution and avoid spoiling relations with the EU. Ukraine and the EU on April 2-3 held the second round of talks on the new enhanced agreement to replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in Kiev.

The delegations of Ukraine and the European Commission expressed mutual interest in the new agreement to shift the Ukraine-EU relations on a qualitatively new level, to strengthen present ties and to give an impetus to the rapprochement of Ukraine and the EU, the Mission of Ukraine to the EU said in a statement. The parties agreed on the creation of four working negotiating groups, in particular: on foreign and security policy; justice, freedom and security; branch cooperation; free trade area to start working after finalisation of formal procedures of Ukraine’s joining the WTO. The next round of talks is scheduled for May 23-24, 2007 in Brussels. Hohmann said a constructive result in the negotiations on signing a new agreement with Ukraine is possible only if the country and society are united. „For us it is important to return to the situation of political stability in Ukraine,” she said. The EU needs geopolitical stability in its eastern border in order to promote economic ties in the region, which are the core of the European Neighbourhood Policy.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko declaration earlier last week to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada legislature, Ukraine’s Parliament, and call for early elections threw Ukraine in political turmoil, with coalition and opposition protesters facing off in the capital.   Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and his ruling coalition in parliament have defied the decree, saying they intended to wait for the Constitutional Court to rule on its legitimacy. On April 4, the president met with the National Security Council to discuss the current constitutional crisis. It later came out in favour of Yushchenko, urging Yanukovich to begin preparations for polls on May 27. Yanukovich, however, held firm to his rejection of the presidential order, reiterating that he would wait for the former Soviet republic’s Constitutional Court ruling.

Liliya Shevtsova, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, told New Europe it seems that Yushchenko is not following the reasons  required for dismantling the parliament. „Yushchenko’s position constitutionally is very fragile,” she said, adding that now it all depends on Ukraine’s Constitutional Court to solve the political crisis. „There seems to be a paradox when the Constitutional Court is the only institution in Ukraine that can resolve this crisis, but they cannot do it on the constitutional basis so they have to do it on the political basis. But, even in this case, it would be the only right solution,” she said. Yushchenko cited constitutional violations in forming the ruling coalition headed by Yanukovich as the reason for sacking the parliament. However, a Ukrainian diplomat told New Europe Yushchenko’s decision was a year too late. He said the president should have dismissed the parliament during the deadlock in negotiations during the struggle to form a coalition government in 2006.

„Now that Yanukovich’s coalition has appealed to the Constitutional Court, it’s more difficult for Yushchenko” he said. The diplomat opined that one of the reasons behind Yushchenko’s decision to dismiss the parliament was the president’s fear that the government would increase its current majority of some 270 to 300, which would amount to a constitutional majority able to override presidential vetoes and alter the constitution further weakening presidential powers, by this summer. Shevtsova said Ukraine’s political crisis should not be exaggerated. „We have to be a lot calmer about the events in Ukraine. In the last few years, we have been anticipating crisis, disaster and doom. But Ukrainians are doing okay. There is seven percent economic growth. The economic growth is higher then Russia,” she said. „Despite the permanent government crisis in Ukraine, there is no economic crisis.”

Nevertheless, Ukrainian diplomats were shocked by Yushchenko’s decision to dismiss the Verkhovna Rada while foreign officials reacted very cautiously. In a telephone conversation with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Yanukovich ruled out violence as the solution to the constitutional crisis, the cabinet press service reported. Yanukovich has confirmed the clear and principle position of the government to adhere to the Constitution and laws of Ukraine and prevent conflict escalation. Solana urged all sides to peaceful regulation and confirmed the EU position on necessity to return to the dialogue and handle a political decision with respect for people’s rights. According to Solana, he has also stated the EU position during his conversation with Yushchenko and intention to speak to Yulia Timoshenko.

Washington called on Ukraine’s rival political forces to respect the rule of law and urged that disputes be resolved non-violently. In a statement, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US is asking all Ukrainian political leaders to take full responsibility for the actions of their supporters. The analyst at the US-backed Carnegie claimed the US has political influence in Ukraine. „The European Union has much more economic leverage but it is not using this leverage now,” she said. „The Americans have been very cautious, very patient and they are not going to force any kind of decision. Of course they are trying to support Yushchenko but ... they understand Yanukovich is not going to surrender Ukraine to Russia. Yanukovich is going to be a very cautious leader with pro-western orientation.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also voiced concern and urged a compromise between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions. „As for the possibility of Russia, or the CIS, or other countries getting involved in helping resolve this crisis, I believe it is up to the Ukrainian side, first and foremost,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the press in Yerevan. „If Ukraine asks for assistance, let me assure you that Russia will not hesitate to provide such help.” Shevtsova said Moscow tries to play very cautiously. „The only way that I see Moscow trying to influence the events is by constantly postponing Yushchenko’s visit to Moscow. In this way Moscow tries to give some message to Ukraine, but I don’t see any real influence on the part of Moscow on Ukrainian events,” she said. „Western politicians understand much better that Ukraine for some time will be sandwiched between Europe and western Russia and Ukraine has to have good relations with both sides. So nobody is going to repeat this desperate struggle in Kiev as we saw in 2004,” she said. The ball is on the Ukrainian side now and Yanukovich and Yushchenko have to come to some kind of compromise. (