More than a month after the Ukrainian elections, the EU and the newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have shown mutual diplomatic signs of understanding which now make Yanukovych’s previously labelled “pro-Russian” views appear to be an exaggerated account of his real political intentions.
Following the EU’s repeated messages that Ukraine was a very close European partner, Mr Yanukovych has pledged in return to work for closer EU integration while at the same restoring more cooperative links with Russia. In fact, Yanukovych’s very balanced position might help him to be more successful than his predecessors in positioning his country as a bridge between the East and the West, for two reasons:
First, the EU’s main strategic interest with Ukraine is very clearly the transit country status of Ukraine for EU gas supplies. Recurrent gas crises in recent years have acutely highlighted the importance of maintaining good relationships between Russia and transit countries. Yanukovych’s closer ties with the Russian government should hopefully give him a better chance of successfully renegotiating the gas supply contracts with Russia which are so critical for his country and for Europe.
Second, Yanukovych’s pro-Russian views make it easier for the EU to dismiss talks about a possible membership of such a large country which, politically and economically, is not quite ready yet for EU accession.
Positive signs towards the EU were further strengthened yesterday when Ukraine announced it was not interested in the Customs Union offer of Russia and instead preferred seeking an Association Agreement with the EU which would include the creation of a free-trade zone.
Would Mr Yanukovych have had the same openness towards the EU if the 2004 Orange Revolution had failed or not taken place? The Lobby finds it hard to judge and wonders whether EU leaders are secretly no happier with the current Yanukovych than they were back in 2004 when MEPs and EU officials proudly walked around Brussels dressed in orange shirts and ties, acclaiming how the Orange Revolution represented the fundamental European values of democracy.