Yanukovych's Choice

An Association Agreement With the EU Will Transform Ukraine -- and its President

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych attends a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 28, 2011. (Christian Hartmann / Courtesy Reuters)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has a decision to make. On November 28–29, Ukraine could sign an Association Agreement with the EU that will expand their political and trade ties, security cooperation, and cultural connections. Success or failure to sign the agreement will not only reshape Ukraine’s domestic political landscape; it could force Yanukovych, ever the authoritarian in democrat’s clothing, to change too. If Ukraine doesn’t sign it, Yanukovych may have to fashion himself as an anti-Western autocrat with a political future bound to Russia. If it does, he just might reinvent himself as a pro-Western national democrat who saved his country by bringing it closer to the EU. Each strategy carries risks, but only the second one promises stability.

The Association Agreement is, according to the EU, “a pioneering document” and “the first agreement based on political association between the EU and any of the Eastern Partnership countries.” It focuses on core economic and political reforms while promoting “democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, a market economy and sustainable development,” as well as “enhanced cooperation in foreign and security policy and energy.” It would create a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area to open up markets and bring trade competition up to EU standards. If Yanukovych signs the agreement at the Vilnius summit in late November, it then will have to be ratified by Ukraine’s rubber-stamp parliament and all EU-member state parliaments. But ratification will hinge on Germany, which is uneasy about integrating Ukraine at the cost of antagonizing Russia given its own dependence on Russian gas.

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