The final failure of the trilateral Russian-Ukrainian-EU trade negotiations was a bad Christmas present to all the parties involved. The negotiations had lasted for a year and a half; there had been more than twenty rounds of meetings, including six at the ministerial level. The sides had addressed many sensitive matters and had successfully resolved most of them. However, at the end of the day, the deal was not closed. What was the main reason for the failure?
One explanation is that Russia and its Western counterparts could not reach a compromise on specific matters, like non-tariff trade restrictions, phytosanitary standards or customs administration. Another explanation is that the prime cause of disagreements was the expected length of the transition period for Ukraine. Yet another reason for the failure is the inability of the three parties to agree on the legal format of their final arrangement: the European Union and Ukraine were ready to sign only a joint ministerial statement or a political declaration, while Russia insisted on a more binding document.
In any case, three things are evident and all the three are likely to have a significant negative impact on the situation in Central Europe in the near future. First, there is no trust between Russia and the West even on matters that can be regarded as technical and have little to do with the current military situation in Ukraine’s east. Second, participants perceive the trade negotiations as less critical than the Minsk process, and the economic dimension of the crisis has not yet received the attention that it needs. Third, optimists had believed that the trilateral Moscow-Kyiv-Brussels negotiations would eventually create a platform to address more general problems of the Ukrainian economic and social rehabilitation - now these hopes have been shattered.