Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, has at least succeeded in taking his country back to the point, seven months ago, when his lamentable predecessor Viktor Yanukovych was on the verge of signing a highly beneficial association agreement with the European Union. Mr. Poroshenko, who ran on a platform of closer integration with the West, will put his signature on the treaty on Friday, in Brussels. Similar agreements with Moldova and Georgia will be signed, too.
Once again, Moscow is objecting, saying that it may take action to protect its domestic market against an “uncontrolled flow of goods” into Russia from Ukraine. Ukraine should be so lucky as to have nothing more to worry about than a trade war with Russia. It would be better than the on-again, off-again warfare between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian militants. President Vladimir Putin may yet decide to undermine the Ukrainian economy, above all, by interrupting the supply of natural gas to Ukraine.
The association agreement will make trade between the European Union and Ukraine almost tariff-free, while also introducing regulations that will encourage more trade and great contact with Europe. For Ukraine, it’s a chance to take a first step toward becoming more like Poland. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Poland and Ukraine were equally unprosperous ex-communist states. Today, Poland is fully integrated into the EU – and its people are far wealthier than Ukraine’s.
The new government has also signalled it’s willing to address regional demands for greater autonomy by taking a small step toward a kind of federalism. It has talked about allowing locally elected, rather than centrally appointed governors of provinces – the equivalent of Canadian premiers.
It is even possible to feel some optimism about Ukraine’s security situation. Mr. Poroshenko’s ceasefire has partly held, though a military helicopter was recently shot down in Donetsk province. Mr. Putin has asked the upper house of the Russian parliament to rescind a resolution authorizing military intervention in Ukraine, though this may just be a kind of marketing ploy. And the Ukrainian military itself seems less uncertain about whether it should support the Kiev government. Yes, Ukraine is still a mess. But a better future might just be possible.