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The Economist

For all the celebrations in Kiev over ratifying the trade deal with Europe, it is the Russians who got most of what they wanted

HISTORIANS will struggle to put dates on Russia’s murky war against Ukraine. It had no official start and no formal end. Russia never admitted that it was in the conflict, which it fanned and fought both directly and through proxies, so has not celebrated victory as it did after the annexation of Crimea. Ukraine never formally declared itself under attack, so it cannot formally admit its defeat.

But that does not make defeat any less real. After six months of fighting, Ukraine has lost at least 3,000 men and control over a swathe of territory in the east, as well as being forced by Russia to delay the full implementation of its association agreement with the European Union.

Ukraine’s setback was masked by the fanfare of the simultaneous ratification of the agreement by the Ukrainian Rada and the European Parliament on September 16th (see Charlemagne). Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, called it an historic moment and led a chorus of MPs in the national anthem: “Ukraine is not dead yet”. After all, it was the decision by the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, to reject an earlier version of the deal a year ago that sparked the Maidan revolution.

Yet the agreement will not fully come into force at least until the end of 2015. The pause is meant to give Ukraine, Russia and the EU time to find a compromise. (During it, Ukraine will be able to export to Europe duty-free while European goods will still be taxed on their way into Ukraine.) This is precisely what Russia asked for before the start of the Ukrainian crisis, only to be told to keep out. Many Ukraine-watchers are worried that the association agreement could yet be further hollowed out.

That is why European officials were in despair when news of the delay emerged from the three-way talks between Ukraine, Russia and European Union. “It is Munich 1938,” one said. Yet Ukraine did not have much choice. Russia threatened the renewal of military action and a complete economic blockade if Ukraine did not postpone implementation. To make itself clear, Moscow is to increase its military presence in Crimea and introduce tariffs for Ukrainian exports to Russia that will be deferred so long as Ukraine does not implement the agreement with Europe. It is not just Ukraine’s free trade with Europe that is at stake, but its ability to reform and to make its own decisions about the future.

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