Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle told the European Parliament yesterday (5 February) that the EU’s role in Ukraine was to facilitate dialogue and avoid ‘worst-case scenarios’, including a state of emergency. The Parliament is expected to adopt a resolution on Ukraine today, with seven drafts having already been tabled by MEPs.
Füle told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that the EU was ready to “assist all sides” in advancing on a political track of de-escalation with expertise and advice, but stopped short of saying that the Union would mediate between the government and the opposition.
This apparently sets the record straight following a statement by Vitali Klitschko, the leader of the Ukrainian opposition UDAR party, who said earlier on the same day that EU was ready to delegate high-level representatives to act as mediators in talks between the opposition and the authorities in Ukraine.
Klitschko quoted the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, with whom he had met earlier in Kyiv. But in her statement published yesterday night, Ashton made no mention of such commitment.
Brussels is careful to avoid accusations by Moscow that it is meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and to engage in a spiral of accusations and counter-accusations. The EU now acknowledges that Russia plays an important role behind the scenes in Ukraine, mainly by applying economic pressure on Kyiv, including on financing or gas price discounts.
Füle said that since December, the world had witnessed “a serious downward spiral” of unfolding events in Ukraine, and lately, “unacceptable acts of violence and reports of casualties, torture and disappearances”.
The commissioner said that what was needed was a serious engagement by both sides to find a negotiated solution out of the current political crisis. He said the opposition and protesters must dissociate themselves from radical elements. Indeed, violence from protestor’s fringe groups has led to the death of a police officer.
He also said that the evacuation by protestors of the occupied Ministry of Justice on 27 January and Ministry of Agriculture on 29 January was an example of a “responsible attitude on their side”. The justice minister of Ukraine threatened to impose a state of emergency if his ministry was not evacuated.
“De-escalation and stabilisation of the situation is now the main priority”, said Füle.
The commissioner spoke of the need to put in place a new government that would enjoy sufficient trust from all sides, adding that discussions on the constitution were of particular importance. The opposition wants a return to the 2004 constitution, claiming that since Yanukovich won the presidency in 2009, illegal changes were made to the constitution to solidify his grab on power.
But analysts say any return to the 2004 constitution - something which the pro-Yanukovich majority in parliament seems unlikely to allow - would automatically mean an early presidential election, another key demand of the opposition.
However, Füle mentioned 2015 for the date of the next parliamentary elections, which is less likely to please the opposition.
“We are ready to support the process with expertise and advice. Conditions for free and fair presidential elections in 2015 will need to be put in place, including in particular with regard to the composition of the Central Electoral Commission and the transposition of the amendments to the law on parliamentary elections into the laws on presidential and local elections”, the commissioner said.
In Ukraine, Füle is increasingly accused of sympathising with those in power and of being a friend of Andriy Klyuyev, the current prime minister, who is a close ally of Yanukovich. Reportedly, his friendship developed over the preparation of the Vilnius Eastern partnership summit on 28-29 November, which turned out to be a catastrophe for the EU’s flagship initiative.
Füle repeated statements that in the case of a positive scenario, the EU would be ready to extend assistance to Ukraine, based on a genuine commitment to political and economic reforms, in cooperation with the IMF and other international actors. He mentioned no figures.
Arseny Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Batkivshchyna opposition party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was quoted as saying by the Ukrainian media on Monday that the minimum amount of EU-US aid should be $15 billion (€11 billion).
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group, told the European Parliament that Europe needs a plan to introduce sanctions against the regime of Yanukovich, if need be.
He said "First, we have to load the gun. We have to be prepared to introduce targeted sanctions to individual members of the regime: banning them from traveling to Europe; restricting their visa's and most importantly freezing their assets. Once the 'sanction gun' is loaded, we have to be prepared to use it if Yanukovich doesn't immediately comply with the rules of democracy and reason."
Verhofstadt reiterated that sanctions must go hand in hand with positive measures, a visa free regime for all ordinary Ukrainians and a substantial financial assistance package to support the Ukrainian economy.
In concluding he said: "The Ukrainian people on Maidan are defending not only their right and their dignity. They are also defending Europe. They are also defending our European values. They are defending our European Neighborhood Policy. Because if they leave the square, the whole region is simply falling back into a new version of the old USSR."
Hans van Baalen (VVD, Netherlands), ALDE spokesman on Ukraine added: "It is crucial for the EU and the US to take a common position towards Ukraine. Furthermore, it must be made clear that Russia has no legitimate say in Ukrainian internal affairs. The Russian doctrine of 'near abroad' does not exist and should not be recognized".
Ahead of the debate, Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, said:
"We do not want this uprising of the people for democracy and rule of law to fail like the Orange Revolution failed. This is why we call for a compromise between the government and the opposition, with early presidential elections.
"The worst case scenario would see the Ukraine split and plunge into unrest and domestic violence, or even civil war. We categorically reject all violence, from the security forces, from so-called "Titushki" [violent protestors who are in fact provocateurs paid by those in power] and from some extremists among the protesters.
"It isn't the European Union's task to 'liberate' the Ukraine - and it isn't Russia's right to colonise it either. Ukraine is a sovereign country and it must decide its path alone. We will assist Ukraine in finding its way and therefore we encourage a compromise between the President and the opposition leaders. A technocratic government of national unity and a constitutional review - possibly by returning to the 2004 Constitution - as well as early presidential elections can be steps to reconciliation."
“The relationship between the EU and Russia must improve”, said EPP Group MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, who is also member of the European Parliament’s EU-Russia delegation.
"Against the background of unfolding events in Ukraine, disagreement on trade restrictions, human rights issues in Russia and the lack of progress in the negotiations on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, it is becoming obvious that we require an open and frank dialogue to clarify issues of mutual disagreement."
"The EU-Russia Summit last week only lasted 3 hours. This displays the poor status of our relationship", Oomen-Ruijten continued. “Enhanced cooperation and good neighbourly relations between the EU and Russia are crucial for the stability, prosperity and security of the EU, Russia and our common neighbourhood, and should be based on the principles of reciprocity, democracy, human rights and rule of law", she concluded.
Charles Tannock, Conservative foreign affairs spokesman (ECR group), said Yanukovych must halt the violence of his security forces, free key political prisoners and allow his people an immediate vote on their future.
He said the Kiev regime should face serious EU sanctions if the Government persisted in repressing peaceful protest.
Tannock said: "I believe in Ukraine’s European aspirations, and have looked on with shock at the country's recent descent into political chaos.
“It has become clear to me that Russia's behaviour towards Ukraine recently has not only been threatening and anti-democratic, it has also been illegal under the terms of its existing international agreements.
"I wold urge the international community to read, as I have, the Memorandum on Assurances given to Ukraine upon joining Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994. At a conference in Budapest, the UK, US, France and Russia all guaranteed the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine and pledged not to coerce the country by economic pressure to bend their way.
"Russia can now certainly be accused of violating that obligation," Tannock stated. [In 1994, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal inherited by the former Soviet Union against assurances from other major players including Russia that they will not exercise vis-à-vis Ukraine no economical, political or whatsoever coercion.]
- 6 Feb.: Parliament to vote resolution on Ukraine;
- 7 Feb.: Yanukovich to meet with Putin in Sochi;
- 10 Feb.: Meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Ukraine on the agenda.