Ukrainian interest. Visa-free prospects, shameless Putin and neighborly surprises
The European Commission has announced its readiness to grant Ukraine a visa-free regime. Vladimir Putin has admitted presence of the Russian military in Donbas, which he had been denying for over a year. Andrzej Duda has brought to Kyiv a load of pleasant surprises.
The tense struggle of the official Kyiv for obtaining a visa-free regime with the EU culminated in the pre-Christmas vow of the European Commission to grant Ukraine this long-awaited privilege. As far as “democracy is a procedure" in the EU, the abolition of a visa regime will not happen overnight, but take several months. But with high probability Ukrainians, holders of biometric passports, will be able to come to the European Union, without visas as early as in the second half of 2016. Of course, it’s only given the Ukrainian politicians don’t make some foolish mistake which would insult the collective mind of the Old World.
On visa liberalization issues, Ukraine only managed to catch up with Georgia, but yielded Moldova.
It should be emphasized that the possible visa-free regime does not automatically mean employment opportunities. On visa liberalization issues, Ukraine only managed to catch up with Georgia, but yielded Moldova. But the vector has been defined very clearly, and Ukraine will not turn off the chosen path.
Vladimir Putin’s response to the introduction of the Ukraine – EU Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area from Jan 1 2016 was rather diverse. He stressed that next year, Ukraine would lose all economic preferences in its relations with Russia. In fairness it should be noted that for the past several years the Russian-Ukrainian trade has increasingly resembled shagreen skin rather than a busy highway with two-way traffic. In fact, Russia will extend to Ukraine sanctions earlier imposed against the Western states.
However, the economic issues were not in the top of Ukrainian-Russian agenda last week. Surprisingly to many, Putin decided to recognize the presence of the Russian troops in Donbas. Intoxicated with his own situational peacemaking, the initiator of the conflict in the east of Ukraine publically underlined that he supports the implementation of the Minsk agreements and stands for the “all-for-all” exchange of prisoners. It seems that Putin is starting to fight for the lifting of sanctions against Russia in the summer of 2016, realizing that they will be extended in December, anyway. It is no coincidence because the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, (Russian FM Sergei Lavrov visited Rome last week), suggested changing the format of the imminent sanctions. By the way, the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Moscow also had a sobering impact on Moscow's position, although the Kremlin will never admit it, of course.
Russia's desire to push through the idea of construction of a Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline may become the catalyst for the correction of the EU sanctions, as both Gazprom and Western energy giants are ready to fund the project. While in Brussels, Poroshenko warned that Nord Stream-2 threatened the energy security of Europe and Ukraine. President of Poland Andrzej Duda, who visited Kyiv this week, also shared this opinion.
The energy issue for the head of Poland in this case is a continuation of the political course to distance Warsaw from Berlin, which ia a today’s feature of the Polish diplomacy. Andrzej Duda arrived in Ukraine with "a bag of gifts": this was a EUR 1 billion spot exchange deal between the two central banks, aimed at the revival of bilateral trade; willingness to resume the work of the Advisory Security Council at the presidential level; and a clear will not to let some difficult moments of common history of the twentieth century affect the current relationship. Duda even expressed Poland’s willingness to remain an observer in the Normandy format (obviously, believing it to be unpromising). So the relations between Poland and Ukraine have an excellent opportunity for development in the context of mutual interest, but also of the security of the Baltic-Black Sea region.