By Maskym Bugriy
On June 19, the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) failed to approve a draft law on the denunciation (abrogation) of the “Kharkiv Accord,” which President Viktor Yanukovych’s government signed with Russia in April 2010. The Kharkiv Accord allowed for the continuation of the stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Ukraine, in exchange for a discount on natural gas being imported from Russia. While, according to a set of bilateral agreements entered in 1997, the Russian Black Sea Fleet was supposed to leave Ukraine by 2017, the April 2010 Accord prolonged Russia’s lease of the Sevastopol naval base until 2042, allowing for renewal automatically for subsequent five-year periods, unless notified a year in advance (https://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/643_359). The draft law denouncing this deal was initiated by Batkivshchyna Member of Parliament (MP) Volodymyr Yavorivskiy and admitted to the Rada on December 12, 2012 (https://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=44950).
A look at the draft denunciation bill’s vote breakdown implies that the bill fell 74 votes short of the 226 necessary for its approval by the Rada. In fact, it also shows the absence of votes of 33 elected MPs belonging to three opposition factions in the Rada (https://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/site2/p_deputat_list), although their approval votes would not be enough to reach the count necessary for the cancellation of the Kharkiv Accord. Clearly, the opposition lacks the majority to approve the denunciation and even the unity to stand behind it. At the same time, the public appears uninterested in the issue. The news on the failed attempt to legally abrogate the Kharkiv Accord was reported in all major Ukrainian media, but it received little analysis. The language of the denunciation draft law was rather simple, filling two short paragraphs. Its initiator, MP Yavorivsky, is a member of the Rada Committee on Culture and Spirituality. Before the vote, the Ukrainian opposition has not launched any campaign for this draft law. In fact, it was doomed to fail.
On the day of the vote, Ukraine’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Ruslan Demchenko told Interfax that a unilateral cancellation of the agreement is not legally possible (https://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/157784.html). But it does not mean that the Kharkiv Accord would not be questioned again in the future. Opposition leaders Yulia Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitaliy Klichko, and Oleh Tiahnybok all had sharply criticized the Kharkiv Accord in the past. Even for the ruling Party of Regions, the agreement stirs up controversy. For one thing, Kyiv hoped that Russia would engage Ukrainian companies in the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet. But instead, as Izvestia investigated, “Putin banned the repair of Russian military ships abroad” (https://izvestia.ru/news/547782). Russian officials often insisted that cooperation is possible only with Ukraine joining the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union. Interestingly, billionaire Vadim Novinsky, whose Smart Group controls the top Ukrainian naval company Chornomorsky Shipyard, is running for the Rada in the Sevastopol constituency. A Russian national with business in Ukraine, Novinsky was granted Ukrainian citizenship by Yanukovych on June 1, 2012, “for outstanding merits to Ukraine” (https://un.ua/eng/article/394123.html). In running for parliament, Novinsky presents himself as a strong proponent of Ukraine joining the Customs Union as he confirmed on June 17, 2013 (https://www.nr2.ru/policy/444349.html).
Yanukovych’s June 6, 2013 address to the Verkhovna Rada acknowledges the still unresolved issues in the mechanism of Ukraine’s control over the operations of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (https://www.niss.gov.ua/articles/1192/). But it also states that for the sake of modernization, it is in Ukraine’s national interest to cooperate with Russia as an equal partner not only in the economic, but also in political and security areas. By doing so on the Black Sea, however, Kyiv increasingly acts as a supporter of Moscow’s power projection capabilities. One example is the June 26 joint naval and ground forces exercise “Farvater Mira 2013” around Sevastopol. The drill’s main objective was counter-piracy, but it also practiced air defense by destroying targets dropped from a Russian SU-24 jet fighter (https://interfax.com.ua/news/general/158419.html). Notably, Russia’s command ship during the exercise was the guided missile corvette Bora that can be used against small vessels, but which Russia proudly considers to be its means of fighting off North Atlantic Alliance navies (https://www.rg.ru/2013/05/07/korabl-site.html).
Although it failed to garner enough parliamentary support, the initiative to consider the denunciation of the Kharkiv Accord is a warning sign for President Yanukovych and the ruling Party of Regions. Even though the opposition has perhaps limited foreign policy resources and concentrates its efforts on the most persistent issues of European integration and avoiding membership in the Customs Union, security policy and the Black Sea Fleet’s stay in Sevastopol may now come to the forefront of the political debate. A sign of this is already apparent: On June 24, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in a presentation at the Brookings Institute, included Ukraine’s integration with the West in his discussion of the country’s military dimension (https://youtu.be/o2mqpT9zQ7Q). This shift in the conversation may eventually lead to calls for the abrogation of the 2009 Gazprom-Naftogaz contract for natural gas supply. And indeed, Ukraine’s new energy diversification policy (see EDM, November 20, 2012; January 28, February 11) will add more incentive to breach Kyiv’s agreements with Moscow over Russian gas. The more confident Ukraine starts to feel about its own bargaining position vis-à-vis Russia, the less certainty there will be that the Black Sea Fleet will stay in Sevastopol forever.