Van Rompuy flies to Ukraine to secure 25 May elections

Van Rompuy November 2012.jpg

Council President Herman Van Rompuy will travel to Ukraine next Monday to discuss how to stabilise the situation there before the 25 May presidential election, the EU said yesterday (8 May).

Western countries are hoping the election will help stabilise the country. But Russia said yesterday it would be senseless to go ahead with the vote, unless the Ukrainian government ended a military operation against separatists in the east and began a nationwide dialogue on constitutional reform.

“I will travel to Kyiv on Monday to continue our talks on how to stabilise the situation in Ukraine ahead of the presidential elections on 25 May, how to put an end to violence in Ukraine and how to create an inclusive national dialogue,” Van Rompuy said in a statement.

Van Rompuy, who represents the European Union’s 28 national governments, said Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk had invited him in a phone call.

Yatseniuk and several members of his government are already scheduled to come to Brussels next Tuesday for talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The EU has said it is willing to provide $15 billion (€11 Billion) in loans and grants to Ukraine over several years to help get the shattered economy back on its feet.

Pro-Russian separatists have taken over parts of eastern Ukraine and plan to hold a referendum there on Sunday on breaking away from Kyiv, following the example of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March after a similar vote.

The upheaval in Ukraine broke out after former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich turned his back last year on an agreement on closer trade and political cooperation with the EU in favour of a $15 billion bailout from Russia. That sparked street protests that ended with him fleeing Ukraine.

Mediators press on peace plan

International mediators took new peace proposals to Kyiv yesterday as tension in eastern Ukraine soared with an announcement by pro-Moscow separatists that they would proceed with a referendum on self-rule on Sunday.

The draft “road map”, seen by Reuters, took no direct view on the referendum, which Western leaders say is illegitimate and inflammatory, but said the 25 May elections were key to stabilising the former Soviet republic. It said all sides must refrain from “violence, intimidation or provocative actions”.

It was drawn up by the Swiss chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and is aimed at giving new impetus to a deal signed in Geneva in mid-April by the European Union, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

That accord said illegal armed groups would withdraw from places they have occupied in eastern Ukraine in a process to be overseen by the OSCE, a Vienna-based body that seeks to prevent conflict and promote democracy across Europe.

But pro-Russian separatists have shown little sign of budging from public buildings in the east and comments from Moscow and Kyiv yesterday cast further doubt over the prospects for the peace process.

The OSCE plan said Ukraine has the right to use its security forces “in a proportionate manner” to prevent violence in its standoff with pro-Moscow rebels and should adopt an amnesty law to cover any who end their occupation of public places in eastern areas and lay down their arms.

It said the OSCE chair “offers … to coordinate further steps to implement” the Geneva deal and listed various measures the 57-nation body could help with, including mediation, disarmament, and the launch of a broad national dialogue.

The OSCE already has more than 150 civilian monitors in Ukraine. Eight European military observers from a separate OSCE-linked mission were detained by Ukrainian separatists for a week before they were freed last week.

Two pages

The two-page Swiss plan said “all acts of violence must be promptly investigated and prosecuted accordingly” and that the OSCE would support such measures with a hotline and an expert team that could be operational by 15 May.

However, amnesty would be granted to “protesters and those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes”.

Amnesty was also part of last month’s Geneva agreement. But the OSCE proposal appeared more concrete in suggesting “the immediate adoption” of such a law by the Ukrainian parliament as a “confidence-building measure”.

One OSCE envoy said Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter presented the plan to Van Rompuy in Brussels late on Wednesday, after Burkhalter met earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

The OSCE press office said Burkhalter had “proposed a road map with milestones and activities in order to make implementation (of de-escalation steps under the Geneva accord) more concrete, structured and effective”, but it gave no detail.

Consultations were now taking place with the sides – senior OSCE officials were in Kyiv yesterday – but it was unclear when, if and in what form the proposal would be made public.

The pro-Western leaders who took over Ukraine in February after its Moscow-backed president fled to Russia amid mass protests said yesterday they would not talk to “terrorists” – their term for the separatists.

Russia called on the West to press Ukraine’s government to talk to its foes, saying the OSCE peace proposals would have a better chance of success if the Kyiv authorities hold “a truly respectful, equitable conversation” with their opponents.

In a foreign ministry statement, Russia dangled the prospect of unspecified compromises on its part in exchange for such Western pressure. Moscow says Kyiv must halt a security operation in the east and hold nationwide talks on constitutional reform that the Kremlin hopes would grant more power to Ukraine’s provinces and keep it out of NATO forever.

“High-level round tables”

In a surprise move, Putin called on the rebels on Wednesday to postpone their planned referendum on self-rule to create conditions for dialogue between Kyiv and the east on what has become the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

But the pro-Russian separatists voted yesterday to hold Sunday’s vote in spite of Putin’s call. While the Swiss plan underlined the need to refrain from actions contrary to Ukraine’s “basic security interests”, it did not call for any specific measures by Russia, for example regarding the troops the West says it has amassed near Ukraine.

It said OSCE monitors would help mediate between “illegally armed groups” and Ukrainian authorities on disarmament, release of hostages, return of seized buildings and other issues.

A broad national dialogue would cover “decentralization, local self-governance, language and national minorities” and other topics, the Swiss road map said, adding that a series of “public high-level round tables” would be launched immediately.

Ukraine’s parliament “is encouraged to take stock of the outcomes of the national dialogue and submit key elements for further work on the constitutional process to a nationwide plebiscite,” it said.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than 10 towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April.

  • 9 May: Victory Day celebrations in Russia and in former Soviet space;
  • 11 May: Possible referendum in the so-called "Peoples' Republic of Donetsk";
  • 12 May: EU ministers to decide on new sanctions;
  • 25 May: Presidential elections in Ukraine;
  • 4-5 June: G7 meeting in Brussels;
  • 6 June: V-Day anniversary in Normandy, Russian President expected to attend.

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