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).