In a series of recent speeches, Mr Kuchma has said he is fed up
with waiting to hear from the EU whether Ukraine will ever get its
chance to apply for membership. Mr Kuchma says he now sees more
immediate gains to be had from building ties with Russia.
"No one, not even among the ranks of bureaucrats, has ever said
they want to see Ukraine in the EU," Mr Kuchma said at a recent
Last month Mr Kuchma signed an economic union treaty with Russia,
Belarus and Kazakhstan which, if fully implemented, would be the
most serious effort to re-integrate the former Soviet economies
since the split of the USSR.
He also forged a compromise between his centrist allies in
parliament and the Communist party on a new constitution, seen by
the EU as a step back from democracy.
The pro-Russian tilt continued last week when the supervisory
board of Ukraine's state oil pipeline company agreed to reverse the
recently built Odessa- Brody pipeline to ship Russian oil to the
The EU had recently sent a note to Mr Kuchma urging him to use
the line for its originally planned purpose of carrying Caspian oil
to central Europe.
Mr Prodi, the European Commission president, and Mr Berlusconi,
whose government holds the EU presidency, face the delicate task of
trying to woo back Mr Kuchma to his previous pro-European course. EU
commissioners Chris Patten, Javier Solana and Gunter Verheugen will
also be at the summit.
Both Mr Prodi and Mr Berlusconi have made their personal views
known. Mr Prodi has said he believes Ukraine and other ex-Soviet
countries could eventually form a customs union with the EU but
would never be EU members, while the Italian prime minister has said
the EU should expand to include even Russia and Israel.
The EU's official line falls somewhere in between: as a European
country, Ukraine has the formal right to apply for EU membership,
but the EU is not ready to say whether it might some day welcome an
Mr Verheugen made clear on a visit to Ukraine last month that the
EU could not give Mr Kuchma what he says he most needs: a date by
when the EU could be ready to sign an "association agreement"
recognising Ukraine as a candidate for membership.
However, despite deep reservations about Mr Kuchma's
authoritarian rule, European diplomats in Kiev say the EU could give
him some kind of positive statement on Ukraine's chances of future
membership before the end of next year, when he is due to step
The European diplomats say Mr Kuchma has made some progress with
the EU, especially on trade issues. A recent agreement would
dramatically lower mutual trade tariffs when Ukraine joins the World
Trade Organisation, which Mr Kuchma had been pushing to do by next
But Mr Kuchma has recently been wavering on that goal as the
industrial groups which support him in parliament have come out
strongly for a delay. The diplomats said the economic treaty with
Russia, if it led to lower natural gas prices, could also get in the
way of WTO membership.
One diplomat said the EU's main concern was the plan to change
the constitution, which he said would be "the equivalent of a coup"
and would lead the EU to downgrade ties. Mr Kuchma's latest draft,
expected to be voted on next year, would shift power to the prime
minister before a new president is elected.
Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, Roman Shpek, said the decision on
the oil pipeline wasn't final and that any change to the
constitution would comply with "European and democratic