Ukraine’s message: Values mean values, without any ‘buts’

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

Ukrainian activists setup the portraits of eight Ukrainian soldiers killed on the Eastern Ukraine in last four days around of plate reading 'President of Ukraine' during their rally in front of the Presidential office in Kyiv, Ukraine, 10 June 2019. [Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA/EFE]

Who are those ready to forgive Russia thousands of killed Ukrainians and millions of internally displaced persons, and pardon Moscow for the occupation of 7% of Ukraine’s territory, Mykola Tochytskyi asks in this exclusive opinion piece.

Mykola Tochytskyi is the head of the Mission of Ukraine to the EU.

This week is exceptionally important for preserving European values, on which the EU and many other respectful international institutions are based. The Council of Europe (CoE) used to be seen as a classic example in terms of defending and promoting European values throughout the European continent.

But may we rely on those values when the aggressor and occupant is welcomed by the majority of the Council of Europe’s member-states who are ready to see Russia in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe without implementing its statutory commitments and obligations? Who are ready to forgive Russia thousands of killed Ukrainians and millions of internally displaced persons? Who are ready to pardon Russia for the occupation of 7% of Ukraine’s territory?

After impunity for its appalling attack on Georgia, Russia launched military aggression against Ukraine.

In 2014, the Russian delegation to the PACE was deprived of voting rights because of the attempted annexation of Crimea and war against Ukraine in Donbas, the first time this had happened since Moscow joined to the CoE in 1996. In 2014, I was the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the CoE and witnessed how the majority in the Assembly supported my country in defending our land and independence from Russian “green men”.

Unfortunately, nothing has changed since 2014. The situation has actually worsened. Russia has fulfilled none of the seven PACE Resolutions, nor the Committee of Minister’s decisions and shows no political will to return to the tenets of international law.

Russia has escalated its aggression: ongoing violations of the Minsk agreements, and mounting persecutions and repression in occupied Crimea.

In November 2018, Russia went even further in its attempts to create a new front in the region of the Kerch Strait when Ukrainian vessels were blocked from entry to the Sea of Azov and subsequently attacked and captured by Russian warships under the artificial pretext of “violation of Russian borders”.

Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors have been kept in custody for more than half a year while Russia keeps ignoring the order of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

Ukraine is seeking ways to revitalize implementation of the Minsk agreements but Russia has launched so-called “passportisation” for Ukrainian citizens in the occupied territories.

On top of that, in blatant disregard of the rule of law and human rights, more than 70 Ukrainian political prisoners are still imprisoned by the Kremlin.

With no limits to hypocrisy, Russia killed 298 innocent victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and keeps denying its responsibility for this atrocious crime.

However, it seems that the majority in the Assembly does not believe that Russia has no intention to implement CM’s decisions and PACE Resolutions. It sounds strange but the majority believes that Russian authorities are going to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human rights.

They are, at best, naive. Let me remind them that in December 2015, President Putin signed a law allowing Russia’s Constitutional Court to decide whether to implement rulings of international human rights courts, primarily the ECHR.

I could continue this endless story.

Every international organisation relies on its cornerstones – norms, principles and values. If all these mean nothing, then the organisation is actually destroyed.

Returning all rights in the PACE to Russia damages not only the credibility of CoE and the PACE but is an existential challenge to all leading international organizations. Moreover, admitting to the PACE four members of the Russian delegation which remain under EU sanctions for undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, contradicts not only the logic of sanctions but common sense in general.

Being an Ambassador to the EU I want to believe in the continuous strong support by the EU for the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine without compromising the values and principles it is founded on and by implementing its comprehensive approach – sanctions and non-recognition policy – until there is full restoration of territorial integrity and sovereignty into the internationally recognized borders of my country.

The discussion at the European Council last week, the decisions taken by the Council with regard to the roll-over of the economic and “Crimean” sanctions against Russia, as well as the clear messages in the Council Conclusions calling on Russia to immediately release Ukrainian sailors and vessels and to secure freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait according to international law, offer hope.

Those commitments, combined with their expressions of readiness to take further actions with regard to the “passportisation”,  make me fully confident that the EU will stay united in its solidarity with Ukraine until the end of the Russian aggression.

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