Concessions to Russia will cost Europe too much

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

File photo. Russian paratroopers stand at the Red Square during Paratroopers Day celebrations in Moscow, Russia, 2 August 2019. [Maxim Shipenkov/EPA/EFE]

Europe’s strength lies in its unity and solidarity, but strength does not mean making concessions to an aggressor in a hope that it will become your friend: strength is to make the aggressor hange his behaviour, writes Mykola Tochytskyi.

Mykola Tochytskyi is the ambassador, head of the mission of Ukraine to the EU.

Six years ago, on 20 February 2014, Russia started its aggression against Ukraine. In blatant defiance of all international laws and principles, Russia occupied a part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory – the Crimean peninsula.

It was just the beginning. After testing the reaction of the international community in Crimea, Russia went further and launched a military invasion in eastern Ukraine – the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Since the illegal occupation of Crimea, we felt the support of our partners and friends. Those, who know what price the humankind has paid on the long way to the set of simple rules called International Law. Ukraine has withstood Russia’s aggression due to its solidarity and unity.

And if the International Law at an instance doesn’t work right, the international community must use all legal tools at our hand to steer the aggressor back to international order.

Just remember the price Ukraine has paid.

More than 14 000 people killed, nearly 30,000 wounded, 1.5 million of internally displaced persons, millions of ruined lives – that is the high toll Ukraine is paying yet again for its freedom, territorial integrity and the right to choose its own future.

One of the most efficient instruments we have to halt Russia’s aggressive policy is sanctions. It is not only a demonstration of unity and solidarity, it is one of a few real mechanisms to force the aggressor to refrain from further violation of international law and human rights, and from undermining international security.

For the last six years, in Russia-occupied Crimea, we have witnessed a dire human rights situation, large-scale political persecutions, illegal elections and conscription of Ukrainian citizens to Russia’s army, massive transfer of the Russian population to Crimea to change the demographic situation, progressing militarisation of the Crimean Peninsula, as well as the whole Black Sea and Azov Sea area.

Have sanctions and international pressure prevented Russia from expanding further its invasion in Ukraine? The answer is, indeed, “yes”. Will the KGB-born Russian apparat, including its president, raise the stakes if and when it deems it timely? The answer, clearly, is also “yes”.

Over the last two months in war-torn Donbas, Ukrainian positions have been shelled more than 400 times. Just recently, on 18 February, we witnessed yet another Russia’s cynical attack in Donbas – an offence and heavy shellings of Ukrainian positions with the weapons banned by the Minsk agreements.

Such a provocation undermines efforts on de-escalation in the region and further jeopardises the Normandy process.  International pressure on Russia must be increased in order to force Moscow to honour its commitments undertaken within the Normandy format.

Russia does not implement even the basic step under the Minsk agreements – sustainable ceasefire.

Ukraine remains committed to the politicaldiplomatic settlement of the conflict started by the Russian Federation.  At the same time, we have been clear on our red lines:

  • Russia must withdraw its military and weaponry from Donbas;
  • We must regain control over the full length of our state border with Russia;
  • Russia must ensure  a sustainable ceasefire in Donbas;
  • Elections in Donbas can be held only in strict accordance with Ukrainian legislation and OSCE standards;
  • All Ukrainian citizens must be released from Russian captivity;
  • There can be no compromises on our territorial integrity and sovereignty!

What we lack now is the political will from the Russian Federation to stop its aggression against Ukraine. What we need is the consolidation of international unity and pressure.

Recently, we have seen different discussions about the future of Europe’s relations with Russia. As my country has been enduring Russia’s aggression for 6 years, just as the WW2, I would allow myself to express my opinion on this.

The only thing the Kremlin respects is strength.

I believe that Europe’s strength lies in its unity and solidarity, in its readiness to protect the cornerstones of democracy, in its consistency and persistence until the result is achieved.

Strength means not making concessions to an aggressor in the hope that it will become your friend, strength is to make the aggressor change his behaviour.

Unity, solidarity and negotiations from the position of strength is the way to win. Negotiations by sacrificing the foundations – respect for international law, European values and human lives – is the way to nowhere.

We need unity, strength and consistency to stop Russian aggression and return the Kremlin to the tenets of international law.

Otherwise, concessions to Russia will cost Europe too much.

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