Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s president, says that deepening his country’s relations with the EU is a priority. Recent comments by his officials hint, however, at a turn towards Russia and the customs union Moscow has formed with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Will these hints become reality? Unlikely. Mr Yanukovich is flirting with joining the customs union as part of an effort to persuade the west to ignore Ukraine’s regression on democracy.
The EU and U.S. should adhere to their values and make clear that respect for democracy and human rights is crucial to better relations between Ukraine and the West.
Ukrainian and EU negotiators agreed the terms of an association agreement in 2011, a significant part of which is a comprehensive free trade arrangement to boost Ukraine’s economic integration with Europe. But the agreement has languished for more than a year, as concerns in Brussels and EU capitals grew over the decline of democracy that has taken place on Mr Yanukovich’s watch. This has included the selective prosecution of former government leaders, such as Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, and election processes that have been criticised by both foreign and domestic observers.
Several EU states have indicated they would block the agreement unless Kiev improves its record on democracy. Similar concerns in Washington have led to a parallel downturn in U.S.-Ukrainian relations. Congress has even begun to talk of sanctions against Ukraine.
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