21st Oct 2016

EU ministers to discuss Ukraine security mission

  • Maidan protesters' funeral: Ukrainian police lost public trust in the February revolution (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Foreign ministers will, in Luxembourg on Monday (23 June), discuss a new EU proposal to send security experts to Ukraine.

A diplomatic source said the EU foreign service has elaborated a so-called Crisis Management Concept (CMC) - an initial blueprint - for the mission.

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It says EU countries should send “civilian” police and security experts to help overhaul Ukraine’s interior ministry forces.

The experts are to work with officials in Kiev on “strategic advice” to “reorganise and restructure the security services in a way which permits recovering control and accountability over them”.

They are also to teach the “necessary skill-sets” to rank-and-file officers in regional HQs. But they would have a “non-executive role”, meaning they would not take part in police operations, unlike, for instance, the EU mission in Kosovo.

One goal of the project is “increasing public confidence and trust” in Ukrainian police, which is linked with abuse under the ousted regime of Viktor Yanukovych.

Another goal is “de-escalating the situation”, with irregular “Self-Defence” groups in Ukrainian cities still in possession of large quantities of small arms.

The EU diplomatic source said the CMC aims to help Kiev in “developing effective strategic communications” alongside the reforms.

Ukraine's interior ministry controls about 170,000 policemen and 30,000 gendarmes.

The police includes special units, such as squads who protect nuclear facilities, or anti-mafia and counter-terrorist forces.

The gendarmerie has access to military-grade weapons, such as armoured personnel carriers and heavy machine guns.

The EU blueprint does not propose reforming the Ukrainian military or intelligence services. But the EU diplomatic source said EU experts would help Ukraine police and military on “sharing intelligence” and “co-ordinating assistance” at an “operational level”.

It is too early to say when the EU experts would arrive if member states opt to go ahead.

There is some controversy on how long they should stay and where in Ukraine they should go, amid fighting with Russia-backed rebels in east Ukraine and after Russia annexed Crimea.

A second EU diplomat said the mission is designed to have an impact in “up to two years”. But a third diplomat said EU missions normally start with a 12 or 18 month mandate.

Police training aside, some EU countries are keen to get international personnel into Ukraine before monitors from the OSCE, a European multilateral body, leave in August.

The OSCE is a source of independent information on the conflict, which has seen rebels and Ukrainian authorities accuse each other of atrocities and which is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists.

Its mandate expires in August, and Russia, an OSCE member, is expected to block a new mandate, creating an international vacuum.

But a fourth EU diplomat told this website: “It will be a challenge to have it [the EU mission] by August”.

Clock ticking

Meanwhile, EU and Ukraine leaders aim to sign a landmark trade treaty in Brussels next week. The treaty lets Ukraine have free trade with Russia, but binds it to stay out of Russia’s Eurasian Union and to make pro-EU reforms instead.

Member states’ ambassadors met in the EU capital on Wednesday to adopt a formal decision to sign.

But they put it off until Monday morning, the day of the foreign ministers’ meeting, because Spain asked for more time to make legal preparations.

An EU diplomat told EUobserver that next week’s treaty signature is not in doubt. The contact added that Spain gave “bilateral reassurances” to some EU countries who were worried that the technical glitch could delay the signature ceremony.

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