This marks a sharp turnaround in the pro-European Union speeches which had been heard just prior to this when the language had been towards the free trade deal as offering Ukraine a new European perspective and the prospect of “transformation”. Indeed, only last week I sat literally feet away from Yanukovych and listened to him speak about the importance of European integration and its part in the modernization of the Ukrainian economy. It was truly refreshing – albeit later commentary from the much less “reconstructed” Prime Minister Mykola Azarov brought things more firmly down to the ground.
This all begs the question as to what was discussed during the Putin-Yanukovych meeting? What concessions and/or threats were made by Moscow to encourage this apparent change of tack? Or has there really been a change of tack, and is the Yanukovych regime simply continuing the now well versed Ukrainian strategy of playing the West off against Russia to extract the greatest rent, or of “milking both cows” to use a farming phrase for an agricultural based economy.
I, for one, remain firmly in the latter camp, I.e. that this is all a game of bluff and counter bluff by the Yanukovych regime, in bolstering its hand in the run up to the Vilnius summit. After all let’s not forget that from a regime perspective the Vilnius summit offers potentially huge prizes for Ukraine, I.e. securing a genuine and real European and EU perspective, or cash/bailouts from Moscow. And for the first time in at least a decade, if not longer, Ukraine is centre stage at this EU summit, and it is an opportunity for the Yanukovych regime to “milk” all this to the full, as this chance is unlikely to come around for a very long time. If a deal is not done at Vilnius, the EU focus will move elsewhere, and a huge chance/opportunity will have been lost. Indeed, that is just the way the EU operates – imagine, a huge amount of energy has been expended by the EU in trying to get this deal with Ukraine done, with 27 visits by the Cox/Kwasniewski mission to Kiev. If Vilnius fails, why would the EU waste any more energy/resources on Ukraine?