Ukraine and the European Union (EU) formalized a trade agreement on June 27 that effectively spurns Russia and provides economic and national security for the fledgling, independent nation. Over the past couple years; inconsistency has characterized the relationship between the EU and the eastern European neighbor that separates it from Russia. In 2012, the EU prepared a similar agreement with conditions that Ukraine make some internal changes to its legal and electoral systems that would more closely align with the European Union. Specifically, the EU asked Ukraine to free two opposition leaders. Despite pressure from his constituents, Viktor Yanukovych did not sign the trade agreement with between his country and the European Union. The two opposition leaders were not freed, and Yanukovych’s decision sparked pro-West demonstrations throughout Ukraine.
During the few days surrounding Kiev’s 2013 change of heart under Yanukovych, the Oman Observer reported that Ukraine’s cold feet came from pressure from Moscow who continually reminded Ukraine of potential economic repercussions from turning its back on Russia. Addressing the nation in a televised interview, then president Yanukovych told Ukraine that he was waiting for the EU to sweeten the terms of their proposed arrangement to account for the damages that would be caused by cutting economic ties with Russia. The European Union sent the message to Kiev that if Ukraine wanted the agreement then the EU was ready to talk about next steps. Yanukovych backed out. Russia did not favor losing influence over its former vassal. Tensions between the Kremlin and EU rose.
Russian troops continued to intimidate Ukraine by moving troops to the country’s eastern border; much like an abusive husband might try to intimidate the wife over whom he is losing control. The government of Yanukovych fell in the midst of civil unrest. Pro-Russian activists fled to the east and asked Russia to annex part of Ukraine. Yanukovych fled to Russia.
In the chaos of the last few months, Petro Poroshenko assumed presidential leadership of the embattled country. Poroshenko redirected Ukraine toward a formal agreement with the European Union that spurns Russia, and despite Moscow’s rhetoric and military intimidation, signed the agreement on June 27 in Luxembourg during the EU meeting that was held there last week.
The two natural gas pipelines deliver gas to the European Union from Russia. Both of them travel through Ukraine and provide the country with economic benefit. Together these pipelines provide 16 percent of the EU’s natural gas supply. The Bratstvo Brotherhood pipeline is Russia’s largest pipeline. Passing through Ukraine, it splits in Slovakia and from there, supplies gas to northern and southern European nations. The Soyuz Union pipeline connects Central Asian gas networks and provides additional gas to Europe. It is not unprecedented for Russia to stop this flow of natural gas. In 2009, when the Russia and Ukraine could not agree on the price of gas, the supplier simply turned off the supply to Europe.
The trade agreement between the Ukraine and the European Union that spurns Russian claims over the country has the potential to threaten Russia’s willingness to provide natural gas to the EU. Not surprisingly, energy security was also on the agenda of the European Union’s meeting last week where the intention to creating strategic partnerships with Mediterranean oil suppliers was formalized.
By Kaley Perkins