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 Flirting With Russia, Yanukovych is Overestimating the Importance of Ukraine for Europe and US, Says Former Ambassador Pifer

Mr Yanukovich is flirting with joining the customs union as part of an effort to persuade the West to ignore Ukraine’s regression on democracy.

Former US ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer writes in Financial Times:

"In the past, Mr Yanukovich has ruled out joining the customs union precisely because it would kill Ukraine's prospect of a free trade arrangement with the EU. A fundamental turn away from Europe and towards Russia and the customs union would prove controversial within Ukraine - both with the public, where polls show consistent support for integration with the EU, and with the elite, including some in Mr Yanukovich's Regions party. The deputy Prime Minister quit the government last month, expressing concern that the reappointed prime minister would not pursue European integration. Ukrainian business would also have doubts," writes the former ambassador.

A pivot East, therefore, would pose serious domestic political risks for Mr Yanukovich. Kyiv's expressions of interest in the customs union aim to raise concern in the west that it is somehow "losing" Ukraine to Russia. The president and others in the elite appear to have an inflated sense of Ukraine's significance to Europe and the US, believing their nation figures so importantly in a geopolitical tug of war between the West and Russia that, in the end, the west will set aside its democracy concerns and accept Ukraine as it is," writes Pifer.

However, according to the analyst it is unlikely to happen: "First, there is no evidence to suggest that Barack Obama, US president, or many EU leaders think in such cold war terms. Second, the west understands that, for Kyiv, joining the customs union would risk compromising Ukraine's sovereignty, something the country has fought hard to bolster over its 21 years of independence."
"For Ukraine, the logical foreign policy is one that deepens links with Europe while maintaining good relations with Russia. The west should not set aside its values to embrace a Ukraine that looks more likely to become Europe's next Belarus rather than its next Poland.
The EU and US should instead do everything to crystallise a clear choice in Mr Yanukovich's mind: he can live up to the democratic standards that he has, at least in word, accepted and improve his relations with Europe and the West, or he can become more isolated. He may claim such a choice will drive him to Russia. But he almost certainly does not want to go there," Pifer concluded.
 
 
 
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