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Igor Fedorovsky: What does Dutch “no” mean for Ukraine?

The Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is over. The turnout made up 30%, with 61% of voters opposing the deal. The outcome cannot be called sensational, but it proved extremely unpleasant for the Kiev authorities.

A series of scandals a few days before the voting have greatly affected the voting result demoralizing the supporters of the Association Agreement (AA). At first, Petro Poroshenko called an editor’s article in The New York Times telling about corruption in the top leadership of Ukraine “an element of hybrid war against Ukraine.” The Panama-gate data on offshore schemes of Poroshenko did not help those advocating “for” the AA. In addition, some Ukrainian parliamentarians close to the U.S. Embassy openly said that the offshoregate.com would have a crucial impact on the choice of the Dutch voters.

It is noteworthy that the voting preferences of the Dutch saw downward trend yet several months before the referendum, as the local press regularly published critical notes about the Kiev authorities. The Ukraine leadership was blamed for complicity in the theft of artworks from the Western Friesland Museum in 2005 (in particular, media named Oleh Tyahnybok, the head of the All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda (Freedom) and Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the ex-head of Ukraine’s Security Service). The government of Ukraine was blamed for concealing the impartial data on the Boeing -777 disaster in Donbass. Negative media reports coupled with migration crisis and strong Euroscepticism in the Dutch public have predetermined the deplorable result for the Kiev authorities.

Although the referendum was of advisory nature, a serious struggle for the implementation of its result will be launched inside the Dutch parliament. Actually, the referendum organizers, Eurosceptics, highlighted that it was not so about Ukraine as about the relations of the national states and the Brussels bureaucratic establishment, the interests of which are advocated by the local pro-governmental parties. Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, did not oppose that thesis either. He warned that the Dutch advisory referendum on the bloc's association agreement with Ukraine could lead to a "continental crisis" if voters reject the treaty.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who called for supporting the treaty said that the process of ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine cannot be continued due to the voting result. Does it mean that the treaty that sparked Maidan may be terminated?  Let us not force developments. There are still high chances that the authorities of the Netherlands will ignore the views of voters, though this may damage their reputation dramatically. 

Let us not forget that European Association is an instrument of economic expansion providing trade preference to the EU countries. In addition, termination of the treaty with Ukraine would become a great victory of the Dutch Eurosceptics whose number in the parliament of the next convocation will increase manifold after the elections of 2017. Then, disintegration trends will intensify inside the European Union, which poses a serious threat to the European bureaucracy that would prefer the status quo to be maintained. This means that the Brussels officials will be searching for mechanisms to block the hypothetical decision of the Dutch parliament to denounce the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Besides, the EU cannot “leave Ukraine” so suddenly and stop supporting the Kiev regime.  At least for its own security, Ukraine remains the key transit country of the Russian gas and has in its territory nuclear power plants around which very dangerous processes are happening now.

What will be EU’s strategy towards Ukraine now? So far, there is no answer to this question even in the rooms of the high-ranking EU officials. It is obvious that the EU that was involved in the organization of the coup d’etat is in the state of the Zugzwang when any move weakens the player’s position.

For the Kiev leadership, the Dutch referendum result is a wake-up call. The post-Maindan authorities have lost their legitimacy in the face of the western public. The ideology “Ukraine protects Europe against Russia’s aggression” is fading away.  The “dream about Europe,” for which the Kiev regime had been waging a policy of state terror against dissidents for two years, is rapidly collapsing. A new window of opportunities is emerging for the former members of the Party of Regions (under Viktor Yanukovych) to revenge. The incumbent leadership of Ukraine is extremely afraid of this.  Kiev may even intensify the fighting in Donbass to mix the failure of the referendum.

Meantime, the referendum result gives hopes to the Ukraine public opposing the incumbent regime. The international agenda is returning to the autumn of 2013, which is a chance to reload the relations inside the Ukraine-EU-Russia triangle. This will in turn restart the government in Kiev – blatant populists and “European integrators” will remain in the past.

April 6 became a new point of bifurcation on the European continent. So far, it is not clear to what side the pendulum of history will swing. However, it is time to use the emerging opportunities at full to settle the Ukrainian crisis.

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