Interviews 09:37 04/12/2013

‘Ukraine divided over EU deal’

Jonathan Fryer, writer, lecturer and broadcaster from London, has joined Press TV’s Top 5 to share his thoughts on the situation in Ukraine.

- Mr. Fryer, why do you think that we are seeing, first of all, this opposition from Ukraine to sign this pact with the EU? Is it about Russia or is it about the EU, some say, meddling in Ukraine’s affairs or having demands like the release of Timoshenko?

- I think that it is very much a reflection of the fact that Ukraine is largely a divided society. Geographically divided and even also politically divided because the western part of the country feels very much European and would very much like the Ukraine to eventually join the European Union and they are Ukrainian speaking, but in the Crimea and many of the big cities of the Crimea, the population is ethnically Russian and feels very much closer to Russia and therefore the Russians speakers plus some of their political allies are worried that a new trade deal with the EU, will, in a sense, suck Ukraine into the EU’s orbit and out of close ties with Russia.

So essentially the kernel of the problem is this tussle between Moscow and Brussels, in the sense, of to which way Ukraine will face West or East.

- So, would you agree with those who say that it is best for Ukraine not to, at this point in time merge with the EU?

- Well, I do not think that there is any question of Ukraine, actually, joining the EU in the short term; it would never meet the criteria to necessarily become an EU member and anyway the EU has already had a bit of enlargement fatigue having taken in, a large number of countries in recent years.

But that would not prevent it having a trade deal with the EU; indeed it would, I believe, be in Ukraine’s interest.

And it is very interesting that of course under the EU system of the six-month rotating presidency, at the moment the presidency of the EU is held by Lithuania, which is one of Ukraine’s close neighbors and of course was formally part of the Soviet Union as well, and the Lithuanians are really angry, really upset, at what has happened and they are saying that it is not the fault of the EU but the fact that the government in Kiev has bowed to pressure from Moscow.

- And of course that is nothing that Ukraine is willing to accept. It has been saying that this has got nothing to do with pressure from Russia or sanctions from Russia. It is also saying that, you know, asking from us to release the former Premier Timoshenko is just too much to ask, it is interference; do you agree?

- Well, that of course is a different issue. It is not just the European Union, it is also the Council of Europe, of which of course Russia is a member as well as Ukraine, and which looks particularly at human rights and democratic issues and there has been enormous concern right across not just the EU but the whole wider Council of Europe, about the imprisonment of the former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and in particular the conditions in which she has been held, the fact that she moved on hunger strike at one stage as being denied... so we understand all of the medical treatment that perhaps she needed.

So there is a real human rights concern about Yulia Timoshenko but I do not think that that should necessarily stand in the way of a trade deal with the EU.

What I think is proving difficult for the Ukrainian leader Mr. Yanukovych to quite understand, is that having a trade deal with EU does not stop him having good relations with the Common Wealth of independent states; in other words, Russia and those parts of the former Soviet Union that have decided to have a form of economic cooperation with Russia.

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