EU Neglecting The East Because Of Arab Spring, Ukraine Complains

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has been neglecting its neighbours in the east as its attention has been distracted by Arab Spring revolutions in the southern Mediterranean, Ukraine's ambassador to the EU complained on Friday.

Ambassador Kostiantyn Yelisieiev

'Absolutely, currently there is a disbalance in terms of southern and eastern policy,' Ambassador Kostiantyn Yelisieiev told reporters in Brussels, lamenting that eastern European countries had been 'neglected.'

'Ukraine has suffered ... a very simple example: I don't think it's normal that (EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton) for the last whole year has not visited Ukraine,' Yelisieiev said.

'Every time I try to press to organize a visit, every time there are some explanations that 'Sorry, she is very busy with (the) southern dimension, with north African countries and so on,' he said.

Ashton visited Kiev in February 2010 for the swearing-in ceremony of President Viktor Yanukovich. In so doing, she incurred in the wrath of some EU governments, notably France, because she skipped a parallel meeting of EU defence ministers in Spain.

Yelisieiev said that was only a 'protocol visit' without any substantive discussions.

The ambassador said he hoped the east/south balance in the EU's foreign policy would be redressed during Poland's six-month presidency of the bloc, which started Friday.

One landmark event during the period is a summit in Warsaw on September 29-30 between leaders from the EU and Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

They are due to discuss the Eastern Partnership, an EU cooperation initiative with the six post-Soviet states that Yelisieiev said has been too 'abstract' so far.

In Warsaw, Polish premier Donald Tusk said any 'speculation' about a 'competition between the southern neighbourhood policy and the Eastern Partnership' was 'completely groundless,' indicating that Poland will be engaged on both fronts.

The ambassador also said that Ukraine wants to conclude negotiations on an EU association agreement and free-trade deal during Poland's presidency of the bloc.

That is an aim despite Russia's retaliation threats, Yelisieiev said, indicating that Moscow has warned Ukrainian companies that they would lose business with Russia once the deal with the EU is signed.

'They are creating a fifth column against the agreement,' the ambassador said, referring to the possibility that business groups in Ukraine might start lobbying against the EU deal.

Alina Inayeh, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund in Kiev, said the EU deal could well be signed by the end of 2011.

But she warned that 'the Ukrainian government does not subscribe to Western standards of democracy, freedom of speech, and fair elections.'

Therefore, Kiev's desire for closer EU links 'arises not out of a sense of shared values, but out of practical interests,' she wrote in a comment piece.

'In and of itself, that might not be a bad thing - transactional relationships can sometimes be stronger than emotional ones - if Ukraine's oligarchs did not have a strong sense of shared interests with Russia.'

'This means the possibility remains of another U-turn back to Russia, barring the consolidation of stronger ties with Europe and the derivation of greater economic benefits,' Inayeh concluded.

Source: DPA