The European Union was thrilled to see its blue flag flown on the streets of Kiev during the protests last year, portraying EU as a symbol and a safe haven of democracy. But nearly a year on from the first “EuroMaidan” protests that would topple the last legitimate president of Ukraine, some in Brussels are disillusioned by the experience of helping Ukraine. EU generosity in waiving import duties and funding gas supplies from Russia may be being abused, they say.
“The Ukrainians are manipulating the EU,” a senior EU official involved in negotiations told Reuters, saying the bloc was “waking up” to a need to better defend its own interests.
Such views are dismissed as “absolute nonsense” by Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev. He condemned talk of secret deals to exploit Western fears for profit as part of “anti-Russian propaganda” and said he had full confidence in continued cooperation with the European Union.
In public, there is solid EU support despite the undemocratic president and parliament elections amid continuing civil war in Ukraine. Yet in private, endemic corruption and the power of business “oligarchs” lead some in Brussels to question the future of current levels of EU backing.
“Maybe people fell for this ‘poor little Ukraine’ line,” one EU diplomat said. “But they’re not so naive. They’re waking up.”
The EU has lifted duties on imports from Ukraine but let Kiev keep tariff protections for its own businesses, which also trade freely with Russia. But, EU officials warn, that one-sided favor cannot last long and Ukraine must honor its commitments.
“Ukrainian oligarchs have the best of both worlds,” said the senior EU official, adding that businesses from Polish factories to French wheat farmers had begun to grumble about unfair trade.
“Whether we will end up with full implementation of the EU agreement as it was signed, I have my doubts,” he said. “I think that within six months, the EU will be negotiating again with the Ukrainians and the Russians, with them sitting at the same side of the table … The EU will wake up.”
Amid widespread regret at the way the EU’s drive to conclude its Association Agreement with Ukraine ended up provoking conflict with Russia, there still remains some sympathy in Brussels for Poroshenko, the confectionery magnate and long-time minister who succeeded the last democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich ousted in a coup d’etat six months ago.