Friday

23rd Feb 2018

EU diplomats unsure of next step on Ukraine

  • Diplomats unsure what 'by 30 June' means and what is the next step (Photo: Marco Fieber)

EU leaders last Friday (27 June) gave Russia a new ultimatum on sanctions, but opinion differs on when the ultimatum is due and what the reaction will be.

The leaders said they will take "further steps" unless Russia meets four conditions “by Monday 30 June”. The list includes the freeing of “all” hostages by pro-Russia rebels and the return of three border checkpoints to Ukrainian forces.

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The rebels over the weekend freed four monitors from the OSCE, a multilateral body, in a move welcomed by the EU foreign service.

But according to the US ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, they still hold “more than 100 other hostages”.

The three other conditions were not met either, as fighting continued over the weekend, causing the death of five Ukrainian soldiers and a Russian journalist.

An EU foreign service spokeswoman told EUobserver on Sunday that member states’ ambassadors will meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the way forward and that “further steps depend on developments”.

But there is confusion over what happens next despite the detailed nature of last Friday's EU demands.

One EU diplomat said the ultimatum expired on Sunday night and that she expects an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers on Wednesday to add more names to the EU's Russia blacklist.

A second EU diplomat said: “I think the ultimatum expires at the end of the day today, at least that’s my reading”.

He added that any new sanctions are more likely to be implemented by the extraordinary EU summit due on 16 July to discuss EU top jobs.

A third diplomatic source said he has “no idea” what the phrase “by Monday 30 June” means in practice.

He added there could be an extraordinary EU ministerial “at any time”. But he noted that if EU countries opt to change the legal basis of the blacklist - to add names of people responsible for financing pro-Russia rebels or to add more Russian companies instead of just individuals - the decision will be left to the summit.

Meanwhile, the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia held a four-way phone call which lasted more than two hours on Sunday.

According to official statements, Russian leader Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko to extend his unilateral ceasefire beyond Monday, while EU leaders repeated their four conditions.

They also agreed to hold more talks in the same format later today (30 June).

For their part, several hundred protesters in Kiev city centre on Sunday called on Poroshenko to scrap the truce and to renew a full-scale military offensive against the rebels.

Ukrainian NGOs have also voiced concern on whether EU-Russia-Ukraine talks on the implementation of the EU free trade pact, signed at Friday’s EU summit, will delay the process.

The trade pact has “provisionally” entered into force in the 28 EU countries without the need for ratification by each capital. But the Ukrainian parliament must ratify it before it becomes valid.

Poroshenko on Friday promised to do it before parliament breaks for the summer.

The EU-Russia-Ukraine talks on the treaty are to see a first meeting at expert level on 3 July followed by a trade minister-level meeting on 11 July.

“It’s important that these processes [implementation of the treaty and the trilateral talks] are treated as separate, parallel processes, to avoid giving Russia some sort of say in our co-operation with Ukraine”, one of the EU diplomats said.

Another of the EU diplomats added: “Russia must not be given a say on the date for starting implementation because if it is, the date might never come”.

“It’s important to find a modus vivendi with Russia after the signature of the trade treaty, but not to give it a veto right … signature without implementation would be meaningless”.

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The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

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