• Ashton and Kerry. 'We should not be giving him [Yanukovych] any presents,' an EU diplomat said (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Ashton and Kerry to skip Ukraine meeting

04.12.13 @ 09:26

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The EU foreign service, some of the Union's big member states and the US are not sending top people to an OSCE meeting in Kiev on Thursday (5 December) and Friday.

A spokeswoman for the EU foreign service chief, Catherine Ashton, said her political director, Helga Schmid, will go in her place.

France and the UK are planning to send deputies.

The German and Polish foreign ministers said on Wednesday they would go after previously planning to stay away. Poland's Radek Sikorski told press he had "hesitated" because of the mass-scale unrest.

But US secretary of state John Kerry will also skip the meeting.

Ukraine is hosting the yearly event in its role as the current presidency of the Vienna-based pro-democracy club.

The meeting comes amid street protests and police violence in Kiev after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych opted not to sign an EU association pact.

Opposition MPs in the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday did not get enough votes to call a motion of no confidence.

Yanukovych's Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, told them he is sorry about police beatings, but he also threatened further use of truncheons and tear gas. "We extended our hand to you … If we meet with a fist, I’m telling you - we’ve got enough forces," he said.

The big EU countries frequently send deputies to OSCE ministerials.

Ashton did go to the last meeting, in Dublin in 2012.

Her spokeswoman told EUobserver on Wednesday that her decision to skip Kiev has nothing to do with the Ukrainian crisis.

"The high representative is meeting with Serbian and Kosovar leaders in Brussels. There is very little time, because she needs to file a report on progress in the EU-facilitated dialogue [on Kosovo-Serb relations] for a General Affairs Council in two weeks' time," Maja Kocijancic said.

Kerry's decision is a deliberate snub, however.

The US envoy was due to go to Kiev, but is now going to Moldova instead.

A US official told press on Tuesday he changed his mind because Moldova did initial an EU treaty last week.

"Had that been the case with Ukraine, it would have been a tougher decision whether to go to the OSCE, but since that didn’t happen, we’re going where the European decisions were made," the official said.

An EU diplomat told EUobserver that EU countries should also show Yanukovych he has lost support.

"He needs Western attention to counter pressure from Russia. But we should not be giving him any presents at this stage," the contact said.

Meanwhile, Nato countries' foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday condemned Ukraine police violence in a joint statement.

The OSCE itself has also criticised Yanukovych for what look like targeted beatings of more than 40 foreign journalists in recent days.

Some diplomats believe Yanukovych might make another u-turn and sign the EU pact, for instance, in the margins of an EU summit in Brussels on 19 December, or at an EU-Ukraine summit in March.

Yanukovych's deputy PM is drafting a proposal for how much extra money the EU should give Ukraine in return for a change of heart.

The deputy PM, Serhiy Arbuzov, is expected to visit the EU capital before the end of the year.

Update: This story was updated at 1pm Brussels time on 4 December, after the German and Polish foreign ministers changed their minds

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