The EU foreign affairs ministers' conclusions on Ukraine, adopted on Monday (10 February), were welcomed by a Ukrainian official, who called them "balanced" and praised the EU for avoiding the term "sanctions". The official also said Kyiv was interested in possible EU financial assistance.
Yevgeniy Perebiynis, director of the Information department of the Ukrainian foreign ministry, welcomed "the balanced position" on Ukraine adopted by the EU foreign affairs Council on 10 February.
"The Government of Ukraine shares most approaches outlined in these conclusions," Perebiynis said according to Ukrainian media.
The Council conclusions on Ukraine may appear toothless and do not mention the word “sanctions”. EU ministers called on “all actors”, which includes the protestors, to “refrain from violence and dissociate themselves from radical actions”.
On the sidelines of the ministerial meeting, French and German ministers however said EU governments had decided to keep the threat of sanctions in reserve in case the situation in Ukraine grew worse.
“Nobody wanted immediate and general sanctions. However, we decided to look again at targeted sanctions if ever the situation becomes worse, which is not the case now. By doing so, we want to send a clear signal, a clear message addressed to those the sanctions would target,” the French minister for European affairs, Thierry Repentin, was quoted as saying by Euronews.
Wary of Russian accusations of meddling in the country’s internal affairs, EU ministers called on the Ukrainian authorities to reach out for international mechanisms for crisis resolution.
“A new and inclusive government, constitutional reform bringing back more balance of powers, and preparations for free and fair presidential elections would contribute to bringing Ukraine back on a sustainable path of reforms," the Council conclusions read.
EU ministers added that when a new Ukrainian government pursuing economic and political reforms would be in place, the Union would be ready to help secure much needed financial assistance, together with international financial institutions.
‘The door remains open’
Ministers repeated that the EU was ready to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA), “as soon as Ukraine is ready”. The sentence “the door remains open for signing the AA” had disappeared since 22 January, when a violent crackdown on demonstrators prompted Commission President José Manuel Barroso to say that the EU would consider possible “actions", considered by some as a euphemism for sanctions.
Perebiynis told Ukrainian media that the country would continue deepening ties with Europe. "Ukraine confirms once again its consistent course towards European integration. We welcome the openness of the EU towards achieving such an ambitious goal as European integration," he said.
"In this context, of particular importance are the steps taken by the European Union, together with the international community and international financial institutions to provide appropriate support."
According to the news website Leviy bereg, Ukrainain President Viktor Yanukovich had only one goal in his visit to Sochi, to secure financial aid. However, he returned empty-handed, the website reported.
Russia increased economic pressure on Ukraine by drawing a link between disbursement of the next tranche of its $15 billion (€11 billion) aid package to Kyiv with repayment of a hefty gas bill owed to Russian firms.
Moscow agreed on credits and cheaper gas for Kyiv last December, but on 29 January said it would wait for Ukraine to form a new government, before fully implementing the loan.
EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle was expected to return to Kyiv later on Tuesday (11 February) to help Ukraine find a way out from the political stalemate. This will be his third visit in the last three weeks.
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. On 28 January the parliament revoked this legislation and the prime minister, Mykola Azarov, resigned. He was replaced by Serhiy Arbuzov, a close ally of Yanukovich.
Six people have been killed and hundreds have been injured in street battles between anti-government demonstrators and police which escalated sharply after the authorities toughened their response. The police officer who died on the street on Wednesday night took the death toll to seven.
- Council of the EU: Council Conclusions on Ukraine