By Mick Krever, CNN
The European Union is getting “profoundly mixed messages” from the Ukrainian government about whether it will sign a free trade deal, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“We have a deal with President Yanukovych; we negotiated for several years…and it’s ready for signature,” he said. “But there seems to be a profound policy muddle in Kiev.”
President Viktor Yanukovych, Bildt said, is saying one thing one day and something else the next.
“From our point of view, the policy is clear,” he said. “If they want to sign, we will sign. We can do it tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, three days from now.”
It’s been nearly a month since Yanukovych ditched the free trade deal; since then, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have protested the decision, pushing for closer integration with Europe.
“They are evidently under very severe pressure, primarily from Russia,” Bildt said, referring to Ukrainian leaders. “That, I think, is the underlying reason for what we are now seeing.”
Russia is pursuing its own trade deal with Ukraine.
The head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s Parliament, Alexei Pushkov, said in an interview on CNN’s “Amanpour” last week that the experience of recent EU countries like Bulgaria suggests that membership would not “spell well” for Ukraine.
Bildt asserted just the opposite.
“Go back 25 years in time, and Poland and Ukraine were roughly on the same level of development. Today in Poland people live nine years longer, and GDP per capita I think it’s at a level four times what is in Ukraine.”
“That’s what modernization brings, and that’s what is the consequences of the absence of modernization.”
The “unprecedented” protests in Kiev, he said, are evidence a “very strong urge” from large portions of the Ukrainian society for the country to take a different path of development.
“I don’t think we’ve seen as massive demonstrations in favor of the European Union in any European capital for quite some time.”
Pushkov and other Russian officials have objected that the European deal is not a solution to Ukraine’s problems.
Bildt did agree that the deal would not be a one-size-fits-all solution.
They need financial help desperately; they are on the verge of a black hole,” he said of Ukraine.
“It is the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, that has the money. And they need to re-enter, and re-enter as quickly as possible, negotiation with the IMF.”
But free trade with the EU – and access to the “world’s biggest integrated market” – would bring modernization, he asserted.
Bildt, somewhat unusually for a diplomat, has taken to the Internet, directly criticizing another country, to push his message.
“Its [sic] obvious that Russia has launched a massive disinformation campaign against EU and the agreement with Ukraine,” he Tweeted Monday.
Russia, he told Amanpour, is also using social media to push its message, so it’s only natural that he use those methods as well.
“They are saying that this is an agreement to the detriment of the Ukrainian economy,” he said.
In fact, he asserted, not only is the Ukraine-EU free trade deal in the interest of Ukraine; it is also in the interest of Russia.
“If we have a Ukraine that develops better, that is good for Russia. It’s a better market for Russia, it’s a better partner for Russia.”
“And they say that they will be forced to take measures against the Ukrainian economy if this comes into effect.”
That, he said, “is roughly the same as if the United States said to Mexico that ‘If you have a free trade agreement with the European Union we are going to go back from NAFTA and have customs duties against Mexican exports to the United States.’”
“Mexico has a free trade agreement with both the European Union and the United States. And Ukraine has no less right than them to have free trade with both Russia and the European Union.”