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You're reading: Foreign Policy: The end of Ukraine’s balancing act

It’s getting harder for Kyiv to play the old game. Last month Russia slapped a $7 billion penalty gas bill on Ukraine, continuing its recent tradition of using crippling gas prices to push the Ukrainians into entering a Kremlin-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. At the same time, the clock is ticking on the completion of a historic association agreement with Brussels called “a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.” The agreement is actually more far-reaching than its title suggests: Aside from stipulations on trade, it also entails a commitment to extensive reforms to harmonize Ukraine’s economy with the European Union’s as well as to establish democratic standards in the spheres of politics, human rights, and the rule of law. Passing those tests would represent Ukraine’s most significant step towards eventual E.U. membership. (Needless to say, membership in the Customs Union — which consists entirely of authoritarian states – entails rather different preconditions, making it well-nigh impossible for Ukraine to choose both options at once.)  

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