In February of this year Russian Leader Putin, Ukrainian leader Poroshenko, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande work to reach the second ‘Minsk Agreement’, which represents an attempt to freeze the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. It’s most notable points called for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the introduction of Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring, and the groundwork for withdrawal and future elections (1). As with its predecessor, however, fundamental agreements reached in Minsk proved short term, disintegrating as fighting continued in Eastern Ukraine. In the context of this continued conflict concerns can be raised as to the status of the Ukrainian European Union Association Agreement. This conflict is showing signs of upsetting the progress of reforms required for Ukraine to move closer to, and eventually join the European Union. Additionally, it is providing a significant distraction that is weakening the attention Ukraine is able to place on its reform process.
Since the late 1990’s, Ukraine and the European Union have been engaged in a positive dialogue with clear potential for a cooperative future. In 1998, a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement was signed between the EU and Ukraine. From here, negotiations on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area were discussed, and implemented from 2008. In 2014 an Association Agreement was signed between Ukraine and Europe, with the objective of achieving a political association and economic integration. This attempts to move Ukraine towards European Union values, including democratic principles, rule of law, good governance, human rights and fundamental freedoms (2). This has initiated a process of ‘gradual convergence in the area of Common Security and Foreign Policy as well as Common Security and Defence Policy’ (2). A relationship, therefore, has been built on reform, dialogue, and cooperation in international security. At the first summit under the framework of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, the Kiev Summit (27/04/2015) has seen the discussion of such ideas in the context of continued conflict and the breakdown of the Minsk agreements. Showing mutual interests, both Ukraine and the EU leadership have recognised that the ‘full implementation of the agreements remains the best chance to move towards a political solution’ (3). In this sense, the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements represents a baseline which, if reached, has significant potential to bring stability and security to the region. In April, the Kiev Summit has shown continued commitment to this cooperation.
Within cooperation, however, an increasingly salient divergence exists in the relationship between the EU and Ukraine. In the aftermath of the Kiev Summit, it has become clear that the priorities of Ukraine and the EU differ with regards to the meaning of security. After the Kiev Summit, it has been reported that Poroshenko told European Commission Chief Juncker that Ukraine was ‘highly alerted about Russia’, perceiving the potential for a vast Russian attack across further Ukrainian territory (4). Consequently, Ukraine is placing its primary focus on immediate and hard security. This is indicated by the Ukrainian bid for an international peacekeeping mission from the international community (5). While Ukraine is clearly maintaining its commitment to ascension towards the European Union, this fear suggests that as the conflict has progressed, focus has moved away from the required reforms in governance and security towards more physical protection. Indeed, it must also be considered that a long term and primary interest of Russia has been to prevent countries where it desires influence, from joining the European Union. In this sense, an element of motivation for Russian support for Ukrainian separatist aggression may be to derail the Association Agreement.
Alternatively, and although concerns for Ukrainian security, sovereignty and unity are of primary importance for the European Union, the means in which to achieve security diverges significantly to that of Ukraine. Traditionally, the European Union has acted as an economic body, and will express significant concern about the negative economic impacts of conflict. Regarding security, good governance, democracy, and movements towards effective and transparent reform are considered key requirements for potential member states. Throughout the context of conflict, the EU has attempted to maintain the progress of the Ukraine Association process, placing attention on the need for Security Sector Reform. For example, Donald Tusk has made it clear that while the EU they are worried about ceasefire violations in the east of the country but will not send armed peacekeepers there (6). This point was emphasised by Juncker, who stated that ‘what is important is implementation of reforms. What is important is the fight against corruption’ (7). Additionally, there are practical reasons for the EU approach to Ukraine, where the EU is hesitant towards further commitment towards Kiev related to the conflict, due to the Euro crisis and other problems (7).
While Ukraine and the European Union have made significant progress in deepening a cooperative relationship since the turn of the millennium, the current conflict in Ukraine, as indicated by the recent Kiev Summit, has revealed the divergent understandings between Ukraine and the European Union over security priorities. Where Ukraine has begun to prioritise its physical security, the EU has maintained its focus on security sector reform. Nonetheless, while the Kiev summit has not offered much in the way of resolution for Ukraine, the EU and the conflict in general, it is important to maintain dialogue. Progress has been shown by the continued commitment of the European Union through the provision of funds, and in planning for a further summit in 2015. As the conflict progresses it is important to manage differing security priorities to ensure that an effective cooperation and reform program remains.
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31436513 – (1)
- EU-Ukraine Association Agreement “Guide to the Association Agreement”, European Union External Action – (2)
- http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/international-summit/2015/04/27/ – (3)
- http://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-leaders-fear-broad-russian-attack-says-eus-juncker-1430239403 (4)
- http://rt.com/op-edge/253757-ukraine-summit-eu-crisis-poroshenko/ (5)
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32478933 (6)
- http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-15-4882_en.htm (7)