EU and US see ‘opportunity’ on Ukraine crisis
European and US leaders have urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to seize “a moment of opportunity” to end the Ukraine crisis.
US President Barack Obama said after a G7 meeting in Brussels on Thursday (5 June) that if Putin recognises Ukraine’s new leader, Petro Poroshenko, and stops pouring arms and fighters into Ukraine, then “it’s possible for us to begin to rebuild trust”.
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But he added: “We cannot afford another three months, or four months, or six months of violence and conflict in east Ukraine. We will have to see what Mr. Putin does over the next three or four weeks, and if Russia continues on its current course, then we’ve already indicated the kind of measures [economic sanctions] we’re prepared to take.”
British PM David Cameron echoed Obama.
“There’s a moment of opportunity for diplomacy to play a role here … for Ukraine and Russia to have a proper relationship. That’s the message I’ll be delivering this evening,” he said.
Cameron is to meet Putin in the margins of a D-Day anniversary event in France later on Thursday.
Obama, Poroshenko, and other European leaders will also attend, giving all concerned a chance to discuss the situation.
French President Francois Hollande said the very fact Putin agreed to come and be photographed next to Poroshenko is a good sign.
“President Putin was told he’ll [Poroshenko] be there and he still decided to come, so he will stand next to, or in any case not very far from, the president-elect of Ukraine,” Hollande said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel added that Putin’s decision to return his ambassador to Kiev in time for Poroshenko’s inauguration ceremony on Saturday is also a good sign.
The hope of a Ukraine deal comes amid a week of top-level meetings in Europe: a Cold War anniversary in Poland; the G7 summit in Belgium; and the D-Day event in France.
But the EU has not grabbed an opportunity to quickly sign a free trade treaty with Kiev.
Poroshenko had asked to sign it at his inauguration ceremony.
The European Commission completed paperwork on time, but EU countries delayed their decision until next week, with a view to sign on 27 June instead.
An EU contact said Poroshenko notified his request too late and that no one is having second thoughts. “It would be a huge blow to the reputation of any [EU] member state if they decided not to sign the treaty at this stage. I don’t see anybody exposing themselves to that political risk,” the diplomat noted.
Despite the optimism, the question of Western solidarity on Russia haunted the G7 in the form of two French warships.
Hollande has said, with German backing, he is contractually bound to deliver the first of the assault vessels to Russia in October.
For his part, Obama on Thursday described Franco-US relations as “stronger than ever” and spoke of the “striking degree” of Western unity.
“Our technical teams have been consulting with the European Commission to identify [potential economic] sanctions that would maximise impact on Russia and minimise the impact on European countries,” he said, as an example of EU-US co-operation.
But he reprimanded Hollande on the warship delivery.
“I recognise that this is a big deal. I recognise that jobs in France are important,” he said.
“But I think it would have been preferable to press the pause button. President Hollande has made a different decision".