Linkevicius: Not all in the EU are reading Minsk in the same way

Linas Linkevicius on 14 March [Council]

Some member states are reading the Minsk agreements literally and believe there could be decentralisation in eastern Ukraine before the situation on the ground improves, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Linas Linkevičius, told in an exclusive interview.

Linas Linkevičius served as Minister of National Defence from 1993 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2004. He was the Lithuanian Permanent Representative to NATO from 2005 until 2011. In December 2012 he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Linkevičius spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.

We are speaking following the discussion on Russia held at the Foreign Affairs Council. It has been some time since Russia has not been discussed at EU ministerial level. Can you give us a flavour of the talks?

The discussion was planned for a long time. It’s not normal we have not discussed Russia for so long, and finally we did. I’m satisfied with the discussion. It was useful at least to look around, because we said from the outset that there is no need to revisit the policy, or to change it, but to assess the situation, given the variety of some opinions in the open space.

There was unity of assessment on the main points. For instance, with regard to the Minsk agreements they remain a must, a precondition for the improvement of the relations with Russia. So Minsk must be implemented. Also it was said that more tangible support must be given to the Eastern partners, not only Ukraine, but also Moldova, Georgia. And there again, more in-depth discussions will follow. The selective engagement in the areas where our interest is – it could be with Russia, but many of us said that it could not be at the expense of values. And if there is selective engagement, it doesn’t mean selective treatment of values.

Also, it is very valuable that many colleagues mentioned the importance of civil society in Russia, to preserve channels of communication. I don’t know what others are doing, but we are doing quite well. For a third year in line, we [Lithuania] are organising the Russian Forum, a very successful event I believe, speaking in Russian. We invited the Russian opposition, politologists, journalists, creative people, to discuss the future of Russia, the future of Russia together with Europe, also discussing how we should communicate, how we should transfer the messages. That was very useful.

I separately raised the issue of Nadia Savchenko [the Ukrainian politician and former army aviation pilot, who was captured in eastern Ukraine and handed over to Russia, where she is accused of of having directed artillery fire that killed two Russian state-television journalists at the positions of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine]. I believe what we are doing [to set her free] is not enough. We are making statements and repeating them, but nothing is changing and she is fading away. She’s really brave, there is no question about that, but it really could be too late and we should do more. What means more is that those directly involved in the fabricating of this case and in those false proceedings, should be accountable and should suffer some consequences. How far we will go in reaching a common position for me is difficult to say. But many colleagues supported me and we will come back to this issue as often as necessary, to make this case more visible.

Does it mean adding names to the sanctions list?

I wouldn’t mind. But it should be a separate decision, because other lists have their separate reason.

How about the Minsk agreement implementation? The situation on the ground doesn’t seem to be good.

What is important is not to mix up the issues. Because some are reading Minsk literally and believe it is possible to make decisions on decentralisation, on other political issues, and then there will be deescalation. But in real life, this is not achievable. There should really be improvement in the security situation, and those who want to see progress should realise this is the case. The Russians are saying decisions first, and then deescalation, which sounds weird, in my view. How can Ukrainians make decisions without any perspective for improvement? How can elections in Lugansk and Donetsk be held without any presence of Ukraine? And I’m not talking about OSCE observers, about media, about political parties…

Elections should take place after the situation improves, after the border would be under [Ukrainian] control, after they [the Russians] would stop the support of the separatist groups. It looks logical, but this view is not shared by all. We should be really tough in demanding the Minsk agreement be implemented, not only its letter, but also its spirit, and common sense.

I was recently in Ukraine and saw that the economic situation of the people has deteriorated, as a result of the reorientation of the country’s economy from Russia to the EU, a process that takes time. Shouldn’t the Union do more to help Ukraine in this context? And how about some additional gestures, such as lifting the visa requirement?

It’s not a gesture. It should be done according to the big progress they made. They passed four very important laws. They are very well on track, and visa liberalisation should happen. I personally think this must be done.

Regarding the economy, also we have to help, but they also have to do their own work in fighting corruption, for instance. Because after the security threat, corruption is the enemy two, I would say, of this country.

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