Barricade with anti-government protesters at Hrushevskogo street in Kiev, 25 January 2014
Reflecting on the experience of Ukraine over recent months, a previous Diplomacist article discussed the failure of a ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, specifically in the city of Donetsk. Nearly three months later, little has changed. There remains a large discrepancy between what world leaders pledged to do and what is actually going on in Ukraine.
Back in September, during a NATO summit in Wales, prominent European leaders pledged to “crack down on countries supplying arms to the rebels,” while President Vladimir Putin continued to criticize NATO and the West. Since then, Ukraine has made little progress toward ending the conflict and stabilizing its economy. One bright spot, however, has been the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which grants Ukraine many of the benefits an official EU member state would receive, such as political association and free trade among its fellow members. In addition to these benefits, the agreement calls for a structured review of governance institutions in Ukraine, and requires the country to undertake certain internal reforms, which can only improve Ukraine’s security.
Despite all of the positive aspects of the Association Agreement, it is still a long way from being implemented. For the agreement to come into effect, all EU member states must ratify the agreement, but so far only seven of the twenty-eight states have done so. Ratification is a complex process, requiring a combination of parliamentary and presidential assents, depending on the type of national government in question. For each of the twenty-one member states that have yet to sign the agreement, the process of obtaining the requisite assents could take several months.
The lengthy ratification process may explain the recent surge in aggression from pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Although President Putin consistently denies backing the rebels, it would be in his best interest to take as much Ukrainian territory as possible before the struggling country has the contractual support of twenty-eight other states. The delay in ratifying the agreement may also provide an explanation for the minimal impact US economic sanctions have had on Russian military strategy, as mentioned in my previous article.
Behind the politics of Russian-Ukrainian relations, there is an actual humanitarian crisis occurring in Ukraine. Since the collapse of the September ceasefire, the UN has reported more than 1,000 new deaths, in addition to the 3,300 military and civilian casualties prior to the ceasefire. With these deaths continuing to pile up, it is critically important that the remaining EU member states ratify the Association Agreement as soon as possible — not merely for the sake of politics, but for the sake of the Ukrainian people.