Ukrainian interest. EU game of cat and mouse with visa lib, Western impotence, and Miller intersection
Last week’s kaleidoscope of news from Brussels has gotten millions of Ukrainians confused. The Aleppo tragedy further highlighted the impotence of the West against the assertive Russia, whatever Barack Obama says about his warnings to Vladimir Putin. Gazprom has launched a verbal cannonade ahead of a new gas war, in which both the EU and Ukraine may be on the same side of the barricades.
The adoption by the European Parliament of a visa waiver suspension mechanism, contrary to general expectations of Ukrainian citizens, has not made clear the date when the Schengen zone visa requirements will be lifted for them. This is due to the efforts not to play along with Euro-skeptics in the upcoming elections in France and the Netherlands. The EU officials reiterate readiness to pass the decision in favor of Ukraine but it will definitely not happen in 2016. The desire to turn visa liberalization into a strategic victory has brought new challenges for the Ukrainian authorities.
Amsterdam district court's decision to return “Scythian gold” to Ukraine was an important episode in the struggle for the preservation of the perception of Crimea as an integral part of our country, even more so in a context of increased repression of the occupation authorities. At the same time, we should not be surprised with the position of Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, who put forward a number of conditions for the ratification of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement: after a Dutch referendum, in which the voters opposed the ratification of the deal, he desperately needs arguments for the legislators to pass an opposite decision. However, it would be premature to be convinced that the Dutch parliament will pass a positive decision on the issue.
The European Union has agreed to extend its anti-Russian sanctions for another six months, but it did not link them with Putin's actions in Syria, as the world is watching live the tragedy of Aleppo. The proposal to extend the sanctions for a year was blocked by Italy, where the government is now led by Paolo Gentiloni. Traditional "deep concern" of the West in Syria and Donbas crises has found an excellent reflection in the recognition of Vladimir Putin the most powerful man on the planet, according to Forbes. The U.S. and the EU for another month, until the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, will be mainly monitoring the developments in the conflict areas, nothing more. The pick of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerston for the Secretary of State could create a rather curious situation at the beginning of 2017: the foreign policy of the world’s most powerful nation will be determined by people without any experience in state governance.
In this aspect, just as curious is a "trilateral format of negotiations" involving Nadia Savchenko, the representatives of Russia, and the leaders of the self-styled breakaway “republics”. In such a way, the Kremlin is trying to create an alternative to the Trilateral Contact Group, offering to put on the agenda of these “negotiators” a very sensitive issue - the release of prisoners.
Meanwhile, Russia is not going to limit itself to playing its Donbas cards. Russia has decided to use its almost forgotten energy weapon: Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller has threatened to halt gas supplies to the European Union in the event of unauthorized “siphoning” of gas by Ukraine. It should be noted that Vladimir Putin in his talks with Angela Merkel had also pointed at a possibility of such developments. Moscow well remembers its success in gas wars with Ukraine in 2006 and 2009, but today Gazprom is bolstered not only with the desire to gain control over the Ukrainian gas transport system, but rather with the attempt to reach a consensus on the construction of the second stage of a Nord Stream pipeline. Russia is trying to deprive Ukraine of its status of a gas transit state, regardless of costs. A major role, in this case, is to be played by the EU, as Ukraine in the period after the latest gas war has not only filed a lawsuit against Gazprom in the Stockholm arbitration but also ratified the Energy Charter, unlike Russia.
Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite marked in Kyiv the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Lithuania and Ukraine. The head of state, which is praised in Ukraine, perhaps more than in her own country, stressed that corruption inflicts more harm to Ukraine than the war in Donbas. However, Grybauskaite is just as firm in her stance toward the Russian aggression, contrary to many of her European colleagues.