Army's Actions Raises Ukraine Issues for EU

BRUSSELS — Russia's actions in Georgia have turned the prospect of EU membership for Ukraine into a hot issue.

Ukraine is hoping a summit with the EU in early September will for the first time recognize it as a potential member of the elite club. It also wants talks on a free-trade zone and visa-free travel for its citizens to the EU.

Such moves, say Kiev and its EU backers, would help bind Ukraine to Europe and pre-empt any Russian attempts to meddle with its western neighbor.

However, EU nations are divided.

France and Britain along with Nordic and eastern European nations want the EU to bring Ukraine into the fold. Germany, Spain and Austria have long been reticent, arguing that Ukraine is not ready to join and fearing a westward flood of cheap labor.

Their reluctance has meant that the EU has long refused to offer Ukraine even a long-term prospect of membership. Instead, it was grouped with North African and Middle Eastern nations in a "neighborhood program" that offers deep economic ties but no prospect of future membership.

The Russian invasion, however, has cause some to rethink that strategy.

"Discussion about Ukraine's candidate status is not on the agenda at the moment," EU Enlargement Affairs Commissioner Ollie Rehn said in a speech in Helsinki last week.

But he added: "We should not say 'never' to Ukraine."

Rehn suggested that the country "may be the next focus of political pressure for Russia whose doctrine of 'the near abroad' harks back to the sphere of interest policy of the past."

For the sake of European stability, he said, EU governments must "deliver a clear political signal that Ukraine's rapprochement toward the EU is possible."

On a visit to Kiev last week, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband accused Moscow of succumbing to "the temptations of power politics" with its invasion of Georgia and warned President Dmitry Medvedev not to start a new Cold War.

The EU-Ukraine summit will be hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sept. 9 in the French spa town of Evian.

Kiev said it needs greater guarantees of safety from Moscow. "Current events in Georgia have clearly shown" that the European neighborhood program "has completely failed," Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Yelisyeyev told reporters in Brussels last week.

That program also includes Georgia and is designed to draw Russia's nearest neighbors closer to Western Europe without greatly upsetting Moscow.

Yelisyeyev said after "what has happened in Georgia, [continuing] like nothing has happened is a mistake. Under these circumstances, we cannot have business as usual."

Tomas Valasek, a researcher at the London-based Center for European Reform, said the EU must change course and "refocus on Central-Eastern Europe, on Ukraine and on Moldova."

"EU enlargement was a good idea before the war in Georgia, and the conflict has only underlined its importance," he said.