Russia has for years bullied Ukraine and its manufacturers in the way a big brother torments a smaller one – with tit-for-tat tactics, responding to a kick in the shin with a punch to the face. Most recently it slapped a ban on Roshen brand products supposedly in retaliation for Ukraine imposing extra duties on cars imported from Russia – and just a day after President Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin came together to celebrate the Baptism of Kyivan Rus here in Ukraine. Authorities justified the ban after the country’s inspectors said they had found benzopyrene in the sweets. But tests conducted on the company’s sweets by inspectors in Belarus and Kazakhstan came up negative.
It appears that for the bullying to stop, Ukraine must look eastward and join the Kremlin-led Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This is the rival offer to the European Union’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement that is packaged inside the Association Agreement. Ukraine has for years negotiated to join the latter.
But should Ukraine choose the Customs Union, there might not be any going back. Russia has said this is what Ukraine must do “to be competitive.”Otherwise Ukraine can expect the perpetual trade war that has existed with Russia since 1991 to escalate.