Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

EU cautious on integrating Ukraine

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Kiev

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko (file pic)
President Yushchenko is trailing ahead of January elections, polls suggest

The EU has reviewed Ukraine's slow progress towards integration with the 27-nation bloc at a summit in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Beneath the bland diplomatic language associated with such events there is deep frustration on both sides.

The Ukrainian government wants a long-promised free trade deal, and easier access to visas for its citizens.

But a Russia-Ukraine dispute over gas prices in January was disastrous for Ukraine's image in Brussels.

Bureaucratic obstacles

In the wake of the war in Georgia in the summer of 2008, Ukraine and the EU announced they were working towards an association agreement, which was expected to be signed by the end of this year.

But on Friday there was no such agreement to sign. Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, the EU's top official in Ukraine, said the government in Kiev had simply not kept its side of the bargain, and that very little progress had been made in the areas where the EU wants Ukraine to reform.

"In particular in creating an environment to start reducing corruption; red tape; administrative burdens of all kinds in terms of the business in Ukraine, of attracting investment. There are a number of issues that indicate that in fact very little progress has been achieved."

The Orange Revolution five years ago led many to hope that Ukraine would be put on a fast track towards EU membership. But a state of almost constant political instability has followed those heady days of protests on Kiev's Independence Square.

Rocky relations with Russia, sharpened by a long-running dispute over gas prices, have also impacted on Ukraine's prospects for closer integration.

On previous occasions when Russia had switched off the taps, the view had largely been that Ukraine was a victim of an assertive Kremlin playing energy politics.

But during January's gas war, the corruption inherent in the highly opaque system by which Russia and Ukraine traded in energy was exposed. As hundreds of thousands of EU citizens froze in their homes, sympathy for Ukraine evaporated.

Ukraine is entering another uncertain period, as the country prepares for presidential elections in January. EU leaders will be reluctant to make any firm commitments to Ukraine until the country's future direction becomes clearer.

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The Scotsman Ideals behind the Orange Revolution quickly forgotten - 12 hrs ago
Deutsche Welle Ukraine promises to keep gas flowing west this winter - 18 hrs ago
Financial TimesEU urges Ukraine to end infighting - 19 hrs ago
Reuters UK Ukraine assures EU over Russian gas - 19 hrs ago
Telegraph Europeans hold the aces, even if gas crisis reoccurs - 24 hrs ago
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