Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

West sceptical of Putin’s u-turn on Ukraine

The US and Nato have voiced wariness over Russia’s announcement that it pulled back troops from Ukraine’s border.

Reacting to the statement by Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (7 May), US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told press in Washington: “We have not seen evidence of such movement to date … As you know, Russia made similar claims back in March and didn’t deliver on that promise at that time.”

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Putin spoke to press after meeting the Swiss President in Moscow (Photo: kremlin.ru)

She said Putin’s call for pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, to postpone an 11 May referendum on independence and his endorsement of Ukraine’s 25 May presidential elections are “a helpful step”.

But she added the 11 May referendum is “illegal” and should be cancelled. She also said: “There is far more that President Putin and the Russians can do to de-escalate the situation and to ensure safe elections … They can refrain from any interference with election preparations. They can use their influence on the armed militants who are taking steps to interfere with that preparation process.”

She noted the US and the EU are continuing preparatory work on economic sanctions against Russia if the situation deteriorates.

Meanwhile, the White House the same day announced it is cancelling preferential tariffs on Russian imports under the so-called Generalised System of Preferences because “Russia is sufficiently advanced economically that it no longer warrants preferential treatment”.

Putin made his announcement after a meeting with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter in Moscow.

He said: “We have withdrawn our forces and they are now not on the Ukrainian border, but are carrying out their regular exercises at test grounds. This can be easily verified using modern intelligence techniques, including from space, where everything can be seen.”

He “appealed” to separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine “to hold off the referendum scheduled for May 11” for the sake of peace talks and called the 25 May presidential vote “a step in the right direction.”

He added that authorities in Kiev should hold talks with separatists in a “direct, fully-fledged and equal dialogue” on creating a federal Ukraine.

His endorsement of the 25 May election represents a u-turn on previous statements that the vote is invalid because parts of the country are in turmoil and because Ukraine's ousted leader, Viktor Yanukovych, is still its legitimate president. But his call for rebels to be treated as equals raises the prospect of a divided Ukraine which cannot progress on EU integration.

For their part, Donetsk and Luhansk militants said they will put the Kremlin's appeal to a local vote. "We respect Putin's stance … He is a balanced politician. Therefore we will submit his proposal to the people's council,” Denis Pushilin, a pro-Russian leader in Donetsk, who is on an EU blacklist, said.

But Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen also gave Russia little credit in remarks in Warsaw on Wednesday.

He said that to “compare what happened in Kiev in February [the overthrow of Yanukovych] with what is happening today in eastern Ukraine is totally misleading and, coming from Russia, hypocritical.”

He added: “Public protests against any government are a part of democracy, but the violent pro-Russian separatists armed with heavy weapons who occupy public buildings and take hostages are not part of democracy, and if these groups swear allegiance to Russia, whose troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, that is not democracy.”

He pledged to hold more drills and station more military assets in former Soviet and Communist Nato member states to reassure them they are safe from Russia.

“Nato’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our populations and territory, and let me be clear: Nato stands by Poland,” he said.

Back in Brussels, top EU officials Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso threatened further sanctions if Putin continues to destabilise Ukraine.

Speaking shortly before Putin’s announcement, Van Rompuy noted that Japan, whose PM, Shinzo Abe, was in the EU capital for trade talks, has also blacklisted 23 Russians and is ready to go further if need be.

Abe noted that Japan is sending 10 observers to the 25 May elections and said: "We call on Russia to follow the diplomatic path”.

Russian singers booed at Eurovision

Russia's representatives at the Eurovision song contest in Copenhagen were booed when they qualified for the finale, a reflection of Europe's growing anger at Vladimir Putin.

Russia driving up euro, says Draghi

The Russian-Ukrainian crisis is contributing to a strong euro, along with low inflation and weak demand, said European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us