As two months of protests in Kiev escalate into violence, Commission President José Manuel Barroso proposed today (23 January) to send the EU’s top diplomats to Kyiv to help dialogue and calm tensions. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich reportedly accepted the mediation proposal and assured Barroso that he did not foresee the declaration of a state of emergency in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government announced on 21 November that it had decided to stop its preparations to sign an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU.
Following the news that Yanukovich failed to sign the AA at the Vilnius summit on 28-29 November, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets, demanding his resignation [read more]. The protests, called EuroMaidan, have lasted ever since.
On 16 January supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich hastily pushed through in Parliament new laws, in an attempt to curb anti-government protests. The Commission called these laws “shocking” and “disrespectful to democracy” [read more].
The new legislation, which ran to more than 100 pages and a summary of which in English was obtained by EurActiv, appeared directed mainly at preparing the ground for action to end the street protests.
Barroso had a telephone conversation this morning with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, Commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly announced.
Barroso expressed his deep concern about the escalation of violence and the reports of attacks on journalists and reports of missing people.
This is not the answer to the political situation, Bailly said, adding that Barroso had urged Yanukovich to have “the highest-level dialogue with the opposition immediately”, as his role of head of state requires.
Barroso also repeated his warning from the previous day that if the situation in Ukraine did not stabilise, the EU would assess “possible consequences” in its relationship with Ukraine.
Barroso also said that the Commission offered its assistance in helping the dialogue and calming down the situation. This is why Barroso offered that Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle travel to Kyiv tomorrow, and that following these meetings EU foreign affairs Chief Catherine Ashton may fly to Kyiv next week.
It became clear that the EU envoys would meet with the authorities, as well as with the opposition and with civil society.
Yanukovich reportedly confirmed that both Füle and Ashton would be welcomed in Kyiv to help the political process, and that he was committed to political dialogue. He also reassured Barroso that he did not foresee declaring a state of emergency in Ukraine.
Asked if the EU was already discussing sanctions against Ukraine's leaders or was coordinating its action with US officials, who have already imposed visa sanctions on some officials, Bailly avoided a direct answer, saying that for the time being Brussels wanted to give political dialogue a chance, but if the violence continued, the EU would examine the “possible consequences” for Ukraine.
Asked what was the procedure and timeframe for introducing sanctions, he said that according to experience, each case when sanctions were used so far had been different and none resembled the Ukraine situation.
Yesterday Ukrainian opposition leaders met with Yanukovich, saying they were ready to face police bullets. At least three protestors were killed the same day. Another meeting between Yanukovich and the three leaders Vitaly Klitschko, Arseny Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tiahnibok is due to take place today.
Reportedly, Yanukovich also plans to convene an extraordinary session of the Verhovna Rada, the parliament.
In the meantime, the protestors have recounted that over the last 24 hours more than 30 medical workers had been shot with plastic bullets and beaten; more than 70 journalists have been deliberately shot at; more than 500 protestors have been injured; more than 50 activists have been kidnapped and more than five protesters have been killed. The figures have not been independently verified.
The President of the centre-right EPP Party and Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament Joseph Daul said: “The use of violence currently going on in the Ukraine is unacceptable. We call for the murderous snipers, the Berkut and the armed forces of the Ministry of the Interior to be removed from the streets. The army should refuse to take any part in the oppression.
“We call for the urgent convening of the UN Security Council on the situation in the Ukraine.
“The draconic laws passed on 16 January 2014 should not be implemented, but rather withdrawn and declared null and void. These laws are problematic not only due to the procedure in which they were passed and therefore a new procedure would not help, but because the content of the laws is undemocratic.
“It is clear that it is President Yanukovych, his administration and those who voted for these laws in the Parliament that carry the responsibility for the deaths and casualties in the Ukraine.
“We call on the EU Institutions and the relevant national governments of the EU Member States to identify and apply all appropriate measures and instruments, including the introduction of personalised targeted measures and sanctions on travelling and freezing assets and property of those Ukrainian officials, legislators and their business sponsors (oligarchs) who are responsible for a large-scale massive violation of human rights and of the rule of law, repression against peaceful citizens, deaths of citizens, as well as the introduction of draconian laws violating the international obligations of the Ukrainian State.
“Russia carries responsibility for the course of developments in the Ukraine. We thus call on Russia to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of the Ukraine, applying political and economic coercion in breach of the Helsinki Final Act and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine's security assurances. Failing to use its influence will certainly have an impact on the Sochi Olympic Games,” Daul’s statement ends.
The President of centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) Sergei Stanishev issued a much milder statement:
“We are shocked to see such a rapid rise of violence in Ukraine and we send our condolences to the victims and their families. We strongly condemn all forms of violence and we call on all those involved to show restraint. It is time for the Ukrainian government to start a sincere dialogue with all opposition parties involved and come to a peaceful solution that is fully supported by the Ukrainian people.
“We respect and support the rights of the protesters to express their legitimate demands for freedom, democracy and human rights. We condemn the newly approved laws that restrict the freedoms of protesting citizens and civil society in Ukraine. Freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental rights and cornerstones of the European democratic model. The Ukrainian people are entitled to enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms. Ukraine has dealt peacefully with protesters in the past couple of years and we hope it will return to that path.
“The protests started in November after the Ukrainian government refused to sign a free trade agreement as part of the European Partnership Programme, and turned to Russia for deepened cooperation. The Eastern Partnership offers a long term perspective to those countries aspiring to join the EU. They are a catalyst for change and reforms which eventually lead to increased prosperity and growth. The PES has always been in favour of enhanced cooperation with our Eastern neighbours, provided certain conditions with regards to rule of law, fundamental rights and protection of minorities are met,” Stanishev’s statement ends.