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Tensions grow ahead of EU-Ukraine summit |14 December 2011

Tensions grow ahead of EU-Ukraine summit

Days before a crunch EU-Ukraine summit on 19 December, Kyiv is under increased pressure as Brussels urges its leaders to release political prisoners and Russia moves to take control of its gas pipeline network, diplomats told EurActiv.

Štefan Füle, the EU commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, on Monday (12 December) met for more than three hours in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich and Ukrainian Ambassador Konstantin Yelisieiev.

Normally such meetings take less than one hour. Füle, a graduate of the Moscow State University for Foreign Relations, is fluent in Russian.

Few people know the details of what was discussed. One of them is Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who is expected to travel to Kyiv for the summit.

"Now we have food for thought," Yelisieiev said.

In recent days, doubt over whether the summit should be cancelled signalled widening divisions between Kyiv and the European Union over the imprisoning of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of abusing her office.

After his meeting with Yanukovich, Füle held a 30-minute visit with Tymoshenko, Yelisieiev said.

Managing expectations

EU diplomats told EurActiv that under the circumstances, the summit was unlikely to have bold results.

Kyiv has hopes that an Association Agreement, negotiated over the last five years, could be initialled at the summit. The agreement includes provisions for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) which would see Ukraine adopt legislation approximating EU trade rules.

Ukraine also hopes that the agreement would be signed next year. The ratification process then would take a couple of years, but DCFTA would enter into force upon the signing.

Preamble is key

But apparently Ukraine attaches more importance to the preamble of the Association Agreement, rather than to the initialling of the document.

The preamble could either state that Ukraine is destined to become an EU member country, or just "take note" that Ukraine attaches importance to its European identity.

Diplomats indicated that the country most opposed to any overtures to Ukraine is Germany, while many other countries, such as Poland, were lobbying that Ukraine should make decisive steps towards the EU before Russia could try to drag it into the Eurasian Union, its own sphere of influence.

Ukraine, which is conducting difficult negotiations to bring down the price of gas it pays to Russia - as a result of a 2009 deal negotiated when Tymosenko was prime minister - reportedly would not be able to reach agreement before the end of the year.

Moscow has indicated it will cut the price of gas for Ukraine if the country agrees to sell a 50%-share of its pipelines to Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom.

Kremlin strategy

Yelisieiev said Russia wanted Ukraine not to sign the association agreement before the Russian presidential election in March.

Putin is trying to put in place a Eurasian Union, but without Ukraine the whole project would fall apart, the diplomat said.