Ukraine is involved in negotiations with Russia on natural gas prices and joining Russia’s Customs Union, even as Kiev is discussing an association agreement and free trade agreement with the European Union. Ukraine’s seemingly contradictory moves involving Europe and Russia are part of Kiev’s larger strategy of reaching out to — but not committing to — both the West and Russia in an attempt to maintain balance. However, Ukraine’s relative weakness could result in Kiev’s loss of leverage in relations with the Europeans and the Russians.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov said Oct. 19 that Ukraine would consider joining Russia’s Customs Union and advised the country’s Economics Ministry to review the bloc’s technical regulations. That same day, Azarov said Ukraine is committed to signing a free trade agreement with the European Union. These statements come as several important issues regarding Ukraine’s relationship with Russia and the European Union, including Ukraine’s natural gas negotiations with Russia and talks on signing agreements with the European Union, are expected to heat up.
As both sets of negotiations approach their conclusions, Kiev appears to have made several contradictory moves. However, this maneuvering is reflective of Ukraine’s strategic imperative to balance between Europe and Russia — and its limited ability to do so.