by Alona Liashenko, Liu Hongxia
KIEV, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Political-economic agreements between Ukraine and the European Union (EU) which have strained relations between the two economies and Russia are likely to be nailed down soon, local experts say.
INEVITABLE END AMID HINDRANCE
The chance of sealing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and a free trade pact was probably 95 percent or higher, Olesya Yahno, a chief analyst at the Kiev-based Institute of National Strategy, said of the Eastern Partnership Summit due in Lithuania's Vilnius in November.
"Both Ukraine and the EU are interested in signing this document," Yahno told Xinhua on Wednesday.
The majority of states from the 28-member bloc were interested in gaining access to Ukraine's potential customer base of 46 million people, she said.
Approaching Kiev was a geopolitical move by Brussels aimed at reducing Russian influence in the post-Soviet countries, she said.
Meanwhile, some EU countries, in particular Italy and France, see no need to sign the partnership deal with Ukraine.
"The nations of the so-called 'old Europe' are against possible further EU enlargement, fearing a new immigration wave and soaring pressure on national budgets," Yahno said. "Furthermore, some European countries have close ties with Russia and do not want to spoil them."
Yahno expects the Kremlin to try to derail the agreement and keep Ukraine in its orbit through a carrot-and-stick approach: threatening trade sanctions and offering an alternative -- joining the Customs Union (CU) of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Her remarks came two days after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the special partnership between Moscow and Kiev would end if the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was signed.
"Let them sell their products to Europe, let them try," the Interfax news agency quoted Medvedev as saying, adding it would be impossible to "keep a foot in both worlds, as the Ukrainian authorities want."
Meanwhile, should the association agreement be concluded, relations between Moscow and Kiev would enter a new, more peaceful direction, "because the parties will seek common ground for partnership," Yahno said.
TYMOSHENKO IN THE WAY
However, another Ukrainian analyst believes the agreement is a done deal, saying the case of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is still a problem for Kiev and Brussels.
"Generally speaking, Ukraine has fulfilled almost all EU preconditions for signature. Ukrainian authorities are trying to get around Tymoshenko, but they are unlikely to be able to avoid this matter," Vitaly Bala, Director of the Situations Modeling Agency of Ukraine, told Xinhua.
Tymoshenko, who is said to be suffering severe back pain, is serving a seven-year jail term for abuse of power in a 2009 gas deal with Russia. She has repeatedly called the allegations politically motivated and insisted on her innocence.
"The best option is to allow Tymoshenko to go abroad for her back troubles," the expert said.
Bala acknowledged Ukraine should be ready for increasing pressure from Russia and new propaganda in favor of the CU before the summit. He also did not rule out the EU pushing loudly for Kiev to take its side.
Oleg Ustenko, an economist and Executive Director of the Kiev-based Bleyzer Foundation, agrees with Bala.
Ustenko said he doubted warnings by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt that Ukraine could face a 40-percent drop in GDP if it joined the Russian-led bloc were justified.
"It is impossible from an economic point of view because the value of Ukraine's exports to the EU form just 12 percent of the country's GDP. Even if Ukraine loses the EU market, joining the CU, such material damage is unfeasible," he said, adding the minister was probably talking about some long-term effect.
Ustenko said signing the agreement would cause complications in relations with the CU and Russia.
"Over a quarter of our exports are shipped to Russia, so any economic barriers will seriously harm Ukrainian exporters," Ustenko said.
However, the expert said the partnership with the EU would encourage investment in the East European country and support its weak economy.