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Russia, EU need poised approach to Ukrainian issue

December 05, 2013, 19:48 UTC+3 5
ITAR-TASS analytical center provides expert opinion on the situation
Material has 1 page

MOSCOW, December 5 (Itar-Tass) - The political situation developing in Ukraine and around it spurs one to analyze not only the role of major world players here - Russia and the European Union - but also wonder how their relations will transform further on. Experts polled by the Itar-Tass political analysis center were asked to share their opinion whether the “Ukrainian factor’ will put Russia and the EU at odds.

Although the events in Ukraine have picked up pace, hardly anyone can be confident about the final outcome. On Wednesday, December 4, a Ukrainian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Yury Boyko came to Moscow for negotiations. Ukraine has also reached an agreement its envoys would visit Brussels to discuss economic cooperation issues with the EU.

Meanwhile, Russia hopes Ukrainian politicians will manage to bring the situation back on the constitutional track and warns against foreign interference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a briefing in Brussels.

Either way, the Ukrainian factor may directly affect Russia-EU relations, as, in general, Russia (at least, so far) benefits from the current situation, since it has outplayed its opponents in the diplomatic arena. However, the polled experts do not dare give categorical forecasts. All point to the importance of Germany - in fact, the EU's economic powerhouse.

Lyudmila Babynina, the head of the Political Integration Center at the Institute of Europe (the Russian Academy of Science, RAS) is sure “the two large players, Russia and the EU, will remain calm towards each other”.

“It is Ukraine that is ultimately to make political decisions,” she believes. “Surely, there will be many options for it to choose from, and Ukraine will take advantage of the existing [Russian-EU] disagreements. It will most likely bargain with the EU, and maybe, with Russia. But I do not think Russia and the EU are to expect any catastrophe, a humanitarian catastrophe at that. The situation in Ukraine is not bound to affect our relations, not in formal terms at least.”

Speaking of Germany’s role in the process, Babynina said one should not confuse “bilateral relations with Germany and relations with the EU as a whole”.

“We can hardly say our relations with all EU countries will not change at all,” the expert said. “Negative precedents in relations with one or another country are possible. We may be on friendly terms with Germany, but that does not mean we are on friendly terms with the EU as a whole. And I do not think the situation in Ukraine will somehow affect Russian-German relations. And when we say Germany is the key player in the EU, we are not completely sincere, as, even though it has the strongest economy and is now pushing through its view of an exit from the European crisis, all countries in the EU are equal, even formally. Certainly, all countries are equal, but some are more equal than others. But we cannot discount other countries, if we consider the EU as a whole.”

The head of the Center for German Studies at the RAS Institute of Europe, Vladislav Belov, insists “it is premature to discuss possible dynamics of Russian-EU relations, as the situation around and within Ukraine is in a stalemate.”

“I would not say Russia has won, the game is still on,” he said. “Ukraine is not going to join the Customs Union, it just has avoided signing the EU association agreement for the time being. So there are many pending questions. At least, Ukraine is trying to ease tensions and show its wish to be with both the EU and Russia.”

“I think Germany’s role is quite important here, as Angela Merkel addressing Russia recently, said Vladimir Putin and his entourage should not see the situation in black-and-white, but acquire a broader view, consider various options in which Ukraine might cooperate with both the EU, and Russia,” Belov added. “This is her personal opinion, but it is quite a remarkable one. Therefore, Angela Merkel, a talented politician who deservedly enjoys a very high rating in her country and the EU as a whole, could become an intermediary in the talks. Ukraine itself might suggest that Germany became an intermediary [in negotiations] over the consortium managing the Ukrainian gas transportation system, unacceptable for Russia, which is pushing ahead with the construction of the South Stream and operating the existing North Stream.”

Belov said “Ukraine is at a crossroads, there is no political or civil consensus in the country” and “Germany as represented by Merkel and a yet-to-be formed effective government of the grand coalition is quite capable of proposing ideas that would become an issue for discussion and negotiations.”

“The EU is waiting and exerts pressures with its tough statements. The EU is awaiting the Ukrainian government’s resignation. At this point the EU expects the situation will take the course it had followed before Vilnius summit,” the expert said.

A positive agenda for Russian-EU relations is needed, believes the Director of the European and International Studies Center at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) Timofey Bordachev.

“I hope the events in Ukraine will encourage the EU to cease developing its relations with Russia under a zero sum game scenario,” the expert said. “The crisis in our relations is obvious. It has become possible because, we have seen no attempts by Europe to form a positive agenda so far. It is to be hoped the present events in Ukraine will help change the situation for the better.

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