A security perspective on the association agreement
Ukraine and two other post-soviet European neighbours of the European Union (Moldova and Georgia) have negotiated and signed the Association Agreement (AA) with Brussels almost two years ago. The official objective of this agreement, as inscribed in the preamble of the document, is to seek “the political association and economic integration” of a signatory state with the EU. Despite Ukraine and other Eastern neighbors’ effort to obtain the mention of the future membership perspective (the famous “European perspective”), it met a serious resistance of several western European capitals. A much less committing “European identity” and legally non-binding “European choice” and “aspirations” were conceded.
Not about NATO
Nothing permits either to believe that the AA will be automatically followed by NATO membership, as NATO is an entirely different multilateral organization. Besides, EU member states make enlargement decisions on the basis of unanimity and, unlike 1999 or 2004, the “open door policy” is rather unpopular. At this stage even the countries with much more robust and enhanced relations with the Alliance than Ukraine (Macedonia, Georgia) are not judged to be ready to join the club in the near future and the article 5 of the Washington Treaty will not apply to Ukraine any time soon.
Nevertheless Ukraine’s AA opponents claim that the AA and the DCFTA with Kiev implies EU/NATO/member state engagement to militarily defend Ukraine in its war with Russia. This claim is, however, as false and absurd as the claim of the pro-Russian forces in Eastern Partnership countries that the agreement includes a compulsory legalization by the signatory states of the same sex marriage! Both narratives are spread by the populist and Eurosceptic groups and media, having as common denominator, among other features, Moscow’s moral or financial support.
The provision of the AA dealing with military cooperation implies above all the possibility of Ukraine armed forces participation in the EU CSDP missions and enhances European and global security, which should be in both party’s interest. There is absolutely no “collective security” provision in the EU-Ukraine AA for the simple reason that the EU does not provide hard security even to its full members.
Consensus on common values
The AA and the EU’s Eastern Partnership policies in general are aimed at stabilizing Europe’s neighborhood by promoting consensus on common values, by spreading prosperity and alignment of foreign and security policies, by creating deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCTA), visa free movements, by approximating legal base in various domains, etc. Until very recently there was no or little reference towards geopolitics in Brussels approaches towards the world.
The process of approximation, also called “Europeanization” was believed to automatically lead to the virtuous circle of peace and stability. But geopolitics came back to Europe with the revisionist Russia and its attempts to redraw the political map of the continent with the use of military means and hybrid warfare. Currently the targets of these policies are not only the EU neighbors (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova), but also its member states, including the founding ones (such as Germany) and the whole European construction. The EU is not at the origin of this process, but if it wants to survive it has to respond to the challenge. Abandoning Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, but also the Belarus and Armenia will not guarantee stability.
The idea that the current crisis could have been avoided if Brussel would have invited Moscow to join in the EU-Ukraine negotiation process, is deeply incorrect and even dangerous. From the very beginning Russia’s objective was to make this agreement fail. Giving the Kremlin a veto right on EU neighborhood policies would be a serious mistake. First, it would contravene one of the fundamental principles of the international law, such as the sovereign right of states to choose its international partners or the alliance of its choice. Any agreement reached between Russia and the West that neglects the aspirations of the Ukrainian people will be followed by the increase of instability.
Second, with high degree of certainty the Russian leadership will consider such a concession as a zero sum victory and yet another sign of weakness of the EU. Moscow will probably seek to influence further, both the EU and the neighboring states policies. Russia considers the EU as geopolitical rival and seeks the latter’s break-up - and Brussels obliging and accommodating steps with regards to Ukraine - as a boost to Moscow’s other destabilizing actions.
And finally, a last but not the least important detail regarding the European security: one should not forget that the Euromaidan revolution, which took place in Ukraine in winter 2013-14 was provoked by the decision of the Ukrainian government to align itself with Russia and to decline the signature of the AA and DCFTA with the EU. As far as Yanukovich was at least pretending that the negotiations with the EU were still the priority of his government, Ukrainians, even those extremely unhappy with the lack of reforms and indecent levels of corruption, kept silence and were patiently waiting for the next elections.
In 2013 the majority of Ukrainians refused to accept a corrupt and increasingly criminalized post-soviet type of regime under Kremlin’s influence with no European future. The latter is simply perceived as tantamount of a decent life, accountable government and political freedom. Any attempt to reverse the European option of the country and impose a pro-Kremlin regime will seriously destabilize Ukraine, because those who believe that there is no way back are even more numerous today than on 2013.
Professor Thornike Gordadze is Head of the Research and Studies Department at the Institute of Higher National Defense Studies in Paris. He is a former state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of the Republic of Georgia and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Georgia in charge of European Affairs and Cooperation with NATO. He has been the Chief Negotiator for Georgia on the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) negotiations with the EU.