EU ministers should discuss peacekeepers for Ukraine

20.02.14 @ 12:17

  1. By Vasyl Filipchuk and Amanda Paul

KIEV AND BRUSSELS - The death toll continues to rise in Ukraine.

  • Kiev barricade: Scores have been killed and thousands injured in the violence (Photo: Christiaan Triebert)

This afternoon the EU’s Foreign Affairs council will finally discuss imposing sanctions against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and a number of other Ukrainian political elites and oligarchs following the terrifying, and bloody events that took place between 18 and 19 February and which continue to unfold.

By noon of 20 of February, about 50 people have been killed. Thousands have been injured. The regime is cold-bloodedly killing its citizens despite of the presence of EU ministers in the town.

The goal is to wipe out EuroMaidan no matter the cost to human life. So far it has failed - Ukrainians are ready to fight until the end, despite fear a military intervention may be around the corner. But today is becoming a disastrous day for the whole of Europe.

For weeks, Ukrainians as well as numerous international experts and analysts, have called on the EU to take a tougher approach, going beyond calls for dialogue.

But previous statements, such as those by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a number of other EU officials and leaders, stating that sanctions were not on the table, sent a very wrong message to Yanukovych.

We can now understand that he interpreted these statements as a green light to do whatever he wanted and not be punished.

Meanwhile, protesters read EU statements of “deep concern” as derision; a sign that Europe has betrayed Ukraine and European values. Unfortunately, many Ukrainians see this approach as evidence that a new deal along the lines of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact has been agreed behind closed doors and that Ukraine is given as a negotiating chip to Russia.

It is actually quite difficult to understand the EU thinking behind a no-sanctions approach.

The most common argument has been that sanctions do not work, using the case of Belarus as an example. In fact references to Belarus are irrelevant and simply demonstrate that those who make such a comparison do not understand anything about these two countries.

Unlike Belarus, Ukraine’s political and ruling elite are deeply integrated into a number of EU member states: Austria and the UK are the best known examples, where they keep their families and money.

Hence the idea of losing their comfortable EU bolt holes, along with their financial assets being frozen, is a horrifying thought. Imposing sanctions has the real potential to seriously weaken and undermine the unity of the ruling Party of Regions.

While a “truce” was called yesterday night and Yanukovych has now said he wants dialogue, in reality his snipers are killing dozens of people every hour.

This is not a film - it is the centre of what used to be one of the most secure and peaceful European cities. Everybody can see that this is a clear case of “the Emperor wearing no clothes” and all dialogue is a sham. Unfortunately, it seems that the only language that President Yanukovych seems to understand is that of force.

The sad fact here is that these sanctions come too late.

Protesters have armed themselves while Yanukovych has lost all sense of reality. He seems set on waging a real war against his own nation. All options are presently on the table - we might see even more blood in the capital than we did in Budapest in 1956 or in Prague in 1968.

It could ultimately destabilize the whole of Europe.

Hence the international community needs to fully wake up and face up to the reality that much deeper engagement is needed, including the possibility of having peace-keepers on the ground if we cannot deescalate the violence. While the UN may be considered, Russia will most likely make it impossible to use this institution.

Therefore, the EU remains the most neutral actor and will be welcomed by everyone who is really interested in peace.

The EU has already taken on a monitoring mission role in its eastern neighbourhood in Georgia. While we hope the violence will stop now in Kiev, there is little hope for the wisdom of Yanykovych.

Therefore there is urgent that the EU decide to be prepared for every eventuality. The need to send peacekeepers might be obvious even in some hours.

The EU must show that it is more than a paper tiger, which only acts after the horse has bolted. Now, or it will be again too little and too late, and the price will be the lives of thousands.

Filipchuk is a former Ukrainian diplomat dealing with EU relations, now an analyst at the ICPS think tank in Kiev. Paul is an analyst at the EPC think tank in Brussels