Commission cautiously welcomes news of Ukraine ‘ceasefire’

A Ukrainian border post is seen through bullet holes in a truck's windscreen on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, 3 June. Photo: Reuters

A Ukrainian border post, viewed through bullet holes in a truck's windscreen. Lugansk, June 2014. [Reuters]

On Wednesday (3 September) the European Commission Wednesday welcomed news that a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine has been agreed on between Kyiv and Moscow, but added that those needed to be verified, and that decisions on sanctions would be taken in view of those developments.

Kyiv announced that a ceasefire had been agreed on during a phone conversation between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Russia counterpart Vladimir Putin. However, the official statements from the two capitals differ.

Ukraine says the conversation resulted in “an agreement on ceasefire regime in the Donbas”, while the message on the Kremlin website says “the two presidents continued their detailed discussion of the military and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and exchanged views on priority steps needed to bring about a swift end to the bloodshed in Ukraine’s southeast”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the leaders agreed to take steps towards peace, but had not agreed on a ceasefire, because Russia was not a party to the conflict, which has killed more than 2,600 people since April and caused the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Putin sounded upbeat in comments to reporters during a visit to Mongolia.

“Our views on the way to resolve the conflict, as it seemed to me, are very close,” he said, outlining the seven steps he had put forward to secure a resolution to the crisis.

These steps, he suggested, should include a prisoner exchange, and the creation of a humanitarian corridor for refugees and aid supplies. He called for Ukrainian troops to pull back, and for rebels to cease offensive operations.

Asked to comment, Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said the EU need more information and was maintaining its position that a sustainable political solution includes the establishing of control at the borders. In fact, the porous borders, and the absence of observers, allow Russian troops and equipment to cross into Ukraine unhindered.

It is equally unclear if the ceasefire will hold, and if the threat of further sanctions has helped achieve it. At their 30-31 summit, EU leaders tasked the Commission to propose new sanctions against Russia within one week. Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini said yesterday that the decision on the new sanctions will be adopted on 5 September.

In the meantime, the Financial Times published a leaked document, possibly intended at impressing Russia.

Apparently, besides economic measures, Russia may be suspended from participation in major sporting events, including Formula 1 races, UEFA football competitions, 2018 World Cup, etc.

Future sanctions may also include prohibiting debt financing (through bonds, equities and syndicated loans) to defence companies, and to firms whose main activity is the exploration, production and transportation of oil and oil products, in which the Russian state is the majority shareholder, or holds a controlling stake.

Future sanctions in the energy sector could prevent European energy services companies from working for Russian companies on cutting-edge oil exploration projects.

The Commission published today a press release, announcing that it had adopted proposals for sanctions as requested by the summit, and that they would now be considered by member states. The proposals are in the areas of access to capital markets, defence, dual use goods, and sensitive technologies. Once adopted by member states, the proposals will be made public in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko took centre stage at the 30 August EU summit and said that the Union’s heads of state and government had given his country broad support, since it had faced “open aggression” from Russia, adding that the EU's agenda from now on would largely revolve around Ukraine.

At the summit, some EU leaders spoke about the need of military assistance to Ukraine, many demanded tougher sanctions, but reportedly Slovakia, Hungary and Cyprus made it clear they oppose further sanctions which they claim would hurt their countries more than Russia.

Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini told the European Parliament on 2 September that the new sanctions, to be proposed by the Commission on 5 September, will not be of the category of “stage three”, but would expand the range of current financial sanctions targeting officials responsible for Russian military actions in Ukraine, restrictions on arms and dual-use materials, and technology.

In diplomatic jargon, “third level” sanctions refer to economic sanctions that are intended to hit Russia's major economic players. 

  • 5 Sept.: Commission to propose new sanctions

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