Vilnius Summit: Where Former Soviet Republics StandWorld | November 28, 2013, Thursday // 09:36| views
A participants looks on at a demonstration under the slogan `EuroMajdan` in front of Ukraine Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, 26 November 2013. Photo by EPA/BGNES
The third summit of the Eastern Partnership begins its work in Vilnius Thursday.
High representatives of member states of the European Union (EU) and six countries of the Eastern Partnership are attending the summit that will last until Friday November 29.
The big three from EU - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande are arriving in Vilnius Thursday. They are expected to act in full unison to counter Russia's attempts to divert ex-Soviet countries from forging closer ties with the EU.
The third Eastern Partnership brings together heads of EU Member States and those of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Here is where each of the former Soviet Republics stands.
Armenia decided to abandon the path towards the European integration and consider joining the Russian led Eurasian Customs Union. If Armenia does become a full member of the Russian-led customs bloc, along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, it cannot sign the EU pact at the same time. Armenia's decision, taken at the beginning of September, came as a surprise to EU officials. The EU had concluded negotiations on a political association and free trade pact with Armenia and expected to initial it at an EU summit with former Soviet states in Vilnius in November.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich announced he will attend the summit, just days after his government shocked European leaders and many of its own citizens by suddenly suspending signing a landmark trade deal with the EU and an Association Agreement, which would have paved the way for EU membership.
The decision led to mass pro-EU protest rallies in the capital Kiev, and in other cities such as Odessa and Lvov.
Georgia, together with Moldova, will be one of the “stars” of the Vilnius summit, initialing association and free trade agreements with the EU. But major concerns remain, including deteriorating economic performance, flawed justice when it comes to the political opponents and rampant corruption.
Georgia, together with Moldova, is widely regarded as the champion of the Eastern Partnership in the near future and will initial association and free trade agreements with the EU at the Vilnius summit. But major concerns remain, including instability on the domestic political scene and ongoing security challenges posed by unresolved conflicts.
Azerbaijan, Armenia's sworn enemy since the two sides fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region 20 years ago, does not want to join the customs union with Russia. But nor does Baku plan to sign an agreement with the EU in Vilnius.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Europe are dominated by gas. In June 2013 the consortium exploiting the vast Shaz Deniz gas field announced it would build the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which would bring Azerbaijani gas to the EU while bypassing Russian territory.
This might be the reason the EU invited Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to Vilnius despite the country's dismal human-rights record and the widespread European condemnation of vote-rigging in its recent presidential elections. But this criticism may have had one effect - it is not clear if Aliyev will actually come to the summit.
Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus, a country whose human-rights record is arguably even worse than Azerbaijan's, was a no-show at the Warsaw Summit two years ago. Unsurprisingly, he will not be coming to Vilnius. Only a representative of the Belarusian foreign ministry will be there.
Belarus is the only member of the Eastern Partnership program under EU sanctions, due to its holding of political prisoners and lack of "respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles."
Such opinion polls as exist in Belarus have shown support growing for closer ties with the EU among Belarusians. But an Association Agreement, or anything like it, is unimaginable under the country's current regime.
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