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29th Mar 2020

EU urges Russia to help stabilise Ukraine

  • Pro-Ukraine march in Germany: Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians live in EU states (Photo: blu-news.org)

The EU has urged Russia to join efforts to stabilise the Ukrainian economy, as armed men seize local government buildings in Crimea.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (26 February), EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele said: “Russia has a chance to become part of the efforts to bring stability and prosperity back to Ukraine, including being part of the coordinated international efforts to help Ukraine address its economic challenges.”

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He added: “Russia can only gain from Ukraine’s success; and it risks losing heavily if Ukraine fails.”

The EU, the US, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are currently working on a Ukrainian bailout.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton at a meeting with five EU commissioners in charge of financial instruments in Brussels on Wednesday invited economic affairs chief Olli Rehn “to be the focal point on the EU side, co-ordinating the financial support efforts with the IMF and other international financial institutions, member states and third countries.”

She was just back from Kiev, where opposition chiefs urged her to find money, to get the EU to drop visa requirements and to offer the country an enlargement perspective.

They also urged her to impose asset freezes on former regime officials to help repatriate €9 billion in “embezzled” funds.

For his part, US deputy secretary of state William Burns also met with Ashton and with the new authorities in Ukraine.

He said on Wednesday: “A team of economic specialists from the Department of Treasury and White House accompanied me to Kiev, and will stay on after my departure today to continue our consultations.”

A state department spokeswoman in Washington, Jen Psaki, echoed Fuele, noting that Russia’s plan to hold a military drill on the Ukrainian border is “detrimental” to the situation.

“Our message to Russia and to Ukraine continues to be that we believe we have a shared interest in a stable, peaceful, and unified Ukraine, and we shouldn’t - no one should take steps that would threaten that,” she said.

Inside Ukraine, parliament nominated a new unity government on Wednesday.

It named Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the joint leader of former PM Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party, as the interim prime minister, consolidating the group’s hold on power after another Tymoshenko loyalist, Olexander Turchynov, was named interim president.

With the Ukrainian economy in need of deep reform, both men warned they will have to take unpopular decisions.

"We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders. So welcome to hell," Yatsenyuk told the BBC.

The interim government was well received by the crowd on the Maidan, the protest camp in Kiev city centre, despite mistrust of opposition MPs.

But Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski told CNN the new leaders made a “mistake” earlier this week when they repealed a law granting official status to Russian alongside the Ukrainian language, antagonising ethnic Russians in the country.

For their part, people in Lviv, in western Ukraine, the historic heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, on Wednesday spoke Russian instead of Ukrainian in a show of solidarity.

But early on Thursday a group of 50 armed men forced their way into government buildings in Simferopol, the capital city in the majority ethnic Russian region of Crimea, and raised the Russian flag on top of the local parliament.

"Interior troops and the entire police force have been put on alert," the acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on Facebook.

Analysts disagree whether Russia is willing to repeat its actions in Georgia in 2008, when its army occupied two breakaway regions on the pretext of protecting Russian passport-holders who live there.

But one EU diplomat said if Russian actions spook financial markets into precipitating Ukraine’s bankruptcy, it would help Moscow to extend influence in Kiev.

“The Ukrainian economy is on the edge of a cliff. And Russia is just waiting for this opportunity in order to turn back the tide of events. If Ukraine falls, it will be much easier to restore the old status quo. The EU has to act fast,” he noted.

EU to approve €1.1bn Ukraine aid package

The EU commission will officially agree to offer Ukraine €1.1 billion in emergency aid on Thursday, part of which will help to pay for Russian gas.

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