U.S. Senators Urge E.U. to Link Ukraine Trade Pact to Timoshenko’s Fate

June 19, 2013
Anthony T. Salvia
Director, American Institute in Ukraine

Last week in the U.S. Senate, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible nominee of the Republican Party to succeed Barak Obama as the next President of the United States, and Richard Durbin of Illinois, a senior member of the Democratic leadership team in Congress, jointly introduced a resolution demanding the release of Mrs.Timoshenko.

It also calls on the European Union to reject the much bruited and controversial Association Agreement with Ukraine, including a so-called Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, unless and until Kiev frees Julia.

It would seem, at first glance, that Washington is fairly clueless as to the meaning of Ukrainian events. For one thing, Kiev has already blown Brussels off once in flouting its May 2013 deadline for significant reforms; why would it not do so again? For another, she told the U.S. and E.U. ambassadors to Kiev that her incarceration should not prevent Brussels from signing the agreement. So why should the U.S. Senate make an issue of it?

But there’s another way to look at it:

Whether right or wrong, these Senators stand for principle; they sincerely believe that nations should not be admitted to what is often referred to as the Euro-Atlantic community if they do not adhere to the rule of law, due process and objective legal and judicial standards.

American, and for that matter many European – especially German -- politicians and opinion leaders take the view that Ukraine does not qualify for accession to a free trade zone with Europe now; there will be presidential elections in 2015. If the United Opposition can actually unite around a single candidate -- so the thinking goes -- it can win. The country’s new political leadership will then free Mrs. Timoshenko and the path to Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic future will be wide open.v

It is a sensible approach consistent with Euro-Atlantic values, although not without pitfalls (can the United Opposition actually unite?)

The same cannot be said for the approach of other Europeans, witness Romano Prodi who recently issued a clarion call to signature of the Association Agreement in the pages of the Financial Times (Monday, June 17, 2012). He makes no mention at all of poor Mrs. Timoshenko, who continues to languish in a Kharkov jail cell, tossing her, effectively, under the proverbial bus.

Prodi seems intent on ignoring whatever feeble expression of “European values” the E.U. pretends to demand for affixing its signature to the Association Agreement. He talks about Ukraine's recent adoption of "landmark" reform legislation (huh?), and then says reform is a process that will take time, which is why the Association Agreement should be signed now (in other words, Ukraine – despite its supposed “landmark” reforms -- remains far from meeting European standards; moreover, if Kiev has stiffed Brussels and its high-minded pre-conditions up to now, why should anyone believe they will accede to them later?).

He says the agreement will enhance Ukraine's role as a bridge to Russia, but neglects to mention that Brussels' price for the agreement is rejection of Kiev’s right to enter the economically far more lucrative Eurasian Customs Union -- clearly the Euro-Russian struggle for Ukraine is seen in Brussels, despite what Prodi says, as a zero-sum game.

He says Ukraine's educated work force, industrial base, and "strong industrial export industries" can help Europe overcome “stagnation and turmoil,” although, frankly, it is hard to see how the second poorest country in Europe (between Moldavia and Albania) will constitute much of a locomotive for France, Germany, the UK, and other industrial powerhouses done in by Brussels' penchant for over-regulation, welfare, redistribution and zero growth policies. Prodi seems blithely unaware that it is Ukraine that is hoping (against hope) that the Association Agreement will lift it out of its economic turmoil and stagnation – not the other way around.

Ex-Ukrainian Minister of Economics Viktor Suslov pointed out at a recent roundtable in Kiev organized by the American Institute in Ukraine that Kiev's signing of the Association Agreement combined with possible visa-free travel will mean the collapse of Ukraine's industrial sector and then the de-population of the country as Ukrainians migrate to the West in search of (non-existent) jobs.

Prodi is clearly trafficking in the rhetoric of the radiant future and the end of history as befits the old Marxist that he is. It is the same siren song as landed Cyprus, Greece and a host of other European countries in a peck of trouble. But as Mr. Prodi never experienced Communism directly, his naïveté is perhaps understandable.

But Ukrainian opposition figures do not have the same excuse. How to account for Arseniy Yatseniuk saying Ukraine should opt for the Association Agreement because European values (which ones? Zero growth, support for Sunni extremism in the Middle East, the expropriation of individual bank deposits, gay marriage, and indeed, gay everything?) are more important than Russian gas (the life blood of the Ukrainian economy)?

Or Vitaliy Klitchko saying accession to the Eurasian Customs Union will bring Ukraine no "dividends?” But if annual savings of $4.5-5 billion per year to the Ukrainian treasury occasioned by the lifting of Russian export taxes on energy products bound for Ukraine do not constitute a dividend, what does?

As the presidential campaign unfolds, these would-be heads of the Ukrainian state should be asked to explain themselves as the stakes for Ukraine could not be higher.