An unexpected decision by the European Union allowing Kiev to delay the implementation of a key trade agreement was part of a deal struck between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko over the ceasefire in Ukraine’s civil war, according to senior diplomatic sources.
The Russian president, it is claimed, obtained the concession in return for using the Kremlin’s influence to try and ensure that separatist fighters in the east stick to a truce which has, for the time being, reduced the ferocious violence which has claimed more than 3,000 lives.
It was the failure of President Viktor Yanukovych to sign the agreement with the EU, under pressure from Moscow, which led to the Maidan protests leading to his downfall last year. This time around, however, Ukraine will be able to keep its current tariffs until early 2016.
Russia has threatened to block imports from Ukraine if Mr Poroshenko’s government lowered trade barriers with the EU. The Kremlin maintains that such a move by Kiev would lead to Western produce flooding into its markets through its western borders without check.
The EU had, in the past, repeatedly stated that a third party, Russia, cannot play a part in its negotiations with Kiev because this would infringe on Ukrainian sovereignty. But Juan Manuel Baroso, the president of the European Commission, announced the deal, and Moscow’s role in framing it, on Friday evening.
Speaking at the annual international Yalta Conference, which is being held in the capital Kiev, after Crimea was annexed by Russia, Mr Baroso said: “ I am happy that today, with a trilateral meeting we had in Brussels between the European Commission, the Russian government and the and Ukrainian government, there was broad support for this. Let's see if this can now be the basis for a compromise."
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
On the same day, however, the EU imposed tougher sanctions on Russia for the annexation of Crimea and the supply of arms an, troops to the civil war in the east, with banks, arms manufacturers and the country’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, affected.
Speaking at the conference, Stefan Fule, the commissioner for enlargement, insisted that there were no contradictions in the stance of the EU. “We have made it absolutely clear that there is a red line, we cannot have third party involvement in Ukraine’s association talks. When it comes to this [ tariff levels] the Russians have been expressing their concern and we have considered this. We want to have trade relations and trade relations with Russia as well.”
A Western diplomatic source said: “We have heard that the delay in the trade deal was something which was discussed between Putin and Poroshenko. There may be criticism that Poroshenko had given in to Putin on this one from political opponents and people in the Maidan, but it was right of the EU to show flexibility on this if it helps with the ceasefire. There isn’t much to be gained by harping back on what happened with Yanukovych, the feeling is that we need to focus on the present and the future.”
EU trade commissione, Karel de Gucht, stated: “ This ongoing process needs to be part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the right of Ukraine to decide on its destiny as well as the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
But the research group, European Influence, held: “ The delay Is a personal disaster for Ukraine’s pro-Western political class and millions of expectant consumers, even if it is touted by the EU as the political ‘price of peace’. The alleged problems are simply Russia’s grievance of choice, rewarding the use of force by Russia makes Europe look weak.The most important part of Western response to the crisis is not the sanctions, important as they are, but the efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s statehood and economy.”
The airport in Donetsk, held by Ukrainian forces, came under attack again today from the rebels and there were deaths in clashes at the port of Mariupol. But both sides claim the ceasefire is largely holding and President Poroshenko has been at pains to present it as a success. He also stressed that there cannot be a military victory in the struggle against the Russian backed rebels and it was essential to maintain the dialogue with Mr Putin.
But the President is facing increasing opposition on the issue with parliamentary elections due in six weeks time. His prime minister, Arseny Yatsenuik, maintained that President Putin wants to destroy Ukraine as an independent country: “ We are still in a stage of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation, Putin wants another frozen conflict. His goal is take all of Ukraine, Russia is a threat to global order and to the security of the whole of Europe.”
Yulia Tymoshenko, defeated in the presidential race by Mr Poroshenko, declared:” We should call a spade a spade, we should stop the invasion by whatever means necessary. The terrorists backed by Russia have been responsible for 86 ceasefire violations, they have increased the area under their control by 15 per cent: so they are using the ceasefire to seize territory mapped out by Mr Putin.”Reuse content