BRUSSELS—Members of the Ukrainian Parliament and the European Parliament voted today to ratify an agreement that sparked unrest in Ukraine almost a year ago.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko,called the vote “historic.”
The association agreement lays a framework for political cooperation and better trade relations between the two, requiring Ukraine to make significant political and economic reforms, but bringing it closer politically and economically to the E.U..
The agreement got 355 votes in the Ukrainian Parliamant in Kiev with no votes against it, and 26 members abstaining. In the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 535 voted for it with 127 against it and 35 abstaining.
Now all 28 E.U. member states also need to sign the document.
Russia Forces Compromise
Before the vote, President Poroshenko assured everyone that implementation of the document will start the following day.
However, due to pressure from Russia in the days leading up to the vote, the main economic thrust of the deal, the free trade agreement, will not be implemented till 2016.
Tri-lateral negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, and E.U. held on Sept. 12 resulted in a decision to delay that portion because of the projected impact it would have on Russia’s economy.
Ukraine in Danger
E.U. officials knew the dangers Ukraine was facing in making the deal.
“The Ukrainian society has paid the highest price for the European aspirations, grieving deaths of numerous people, suffering territorial occupation by Russia, experiencing deteriorating economic situation,” said Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Member of the European Parliament.
Russian troops remain in Ukraine today, and the possibility that the ceasefire with Ukraine rebels will not hold is very possible. A similar agreement fell apart in June this year.
Russia has denied supplying the rebels with arms and personnel despite evidence to the contrary.
“I think we need first of all to face realities. It’s not incursions by some Russian troops into Ukrainian territory. It’s a war and aggression going on and war crimes being committed,” said Tunne Kelam, Member of the European Parliament.
The association agreement, which took four years to prepare, sparked a large wave of rallies and violent protests that split the country between those who favored closer ties with Russia and those wanting better relations with the E.U..The protests in Ukraine started after former president Victor Yanukovych tried to cancel the E.U. deal last November.
Since then Ukraine has seen a regime change, a presidential election, as well as an invasion by the Russian troops in the country’s east and the Crimean peninsula.
As the agreement was signed, the number of Ukrainians supporting the country’s aspirations to join the E.U. has grown to over 50%, according to a survey by the International Republic Institute. The survey was taken of 1,200 Ukrainian nationals in March this year.
Despite the political turmoil leading up to this moment, E.U. officials consider it a victory that the agreement could be ratified without change.
“In addition to the military threat and eventual escalations we have been facing, also [we have been facing] the threat of a full-scale economic and trade war,” said Stefan Fule, the Commissioner of the E.U. Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, speaking to the Members of the European Parliament.
After the E.U. voted to increase sanctions against Russia earlier this month. Russia retaliated by saying it would respond in equal measure.
Next for Ukraine is an arduous path of reforms to bring its laws and governance in accordance with the E.U. standards.