Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Germany to Ukraine: Use reforms to fight 'Russian aggression'

  • Steinmeier: 'We have a comparatively calm phase, with a smaller number of violations of the ceasefire' (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

Leading EU states, including Germany and the UK, have said faster reforms and more EU “visibility” in Ukraine are the best way to resist “Russian aggression.”

Their informal paper, circulated before an EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday (18 January), and seen by EUobserver, advises Kiev to create “a vice-prime minister for European integration” to help implement new laws on public administration and anti-corruption.

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It says the EU should consider posting more experts and giving more money to “respond to Ukrainian demands for assistance.”

It notes the Ukrainian public is “only to a limited extent aware of the EU efforts and benefits stemming from closer ties with the EU.”

It says the EU should “enhance its visibility,” especially in Ukrainian regions, by “selecting a few flagship projects … that could demonstrate short-term tangible results.”

It also says “joint trips of the EU and member state representatives to various cities of Ukraine” would make a difference, specifying “regular visits to Kiev at the highest political level.”

The paper was co-signed by Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and Sweden.

It was not endorsed by France, even though France and Germany represent the EU in talks with Russia and Ukraine, in the so-called Normandy format.

The paper makes little mention of Russia. But it notes in its preamble that: “A well-functioning, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine with a vibrant civil society based on the rule of law is indeed the best retort to Russian aggression, propaganda, and pressure.”

Speaking after the ministers’ meeting on Monday, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also urged Ukraine and Russia to fulfill the Minsk ceasefire accord.

He noted “we have a comparatively calm phase, with a smaller number of violations of the ceasefire than in November.”

But he said it’s proving “difficult” to create the right legal basis for elections in Donetsk and Luhansk, two Ukrainian regions under de facto Russian occupation.

He added that Ukraine’s “deficit” on anti-corruption reforms “must be rectified as quickly as possible.”

Philip Hammond, the UK foreign secretary, said Ukrainian authorities should fulfill Minsk “to make sure they can look the Russians firmly in the eye” when Russia accuses them of non-compliance.

He added: “We musn’t forget the annexation of Crimea, which tends to have gone off the radar screen in recent months. Russia remains in illegal occupation of Crimea and we can’t do business as usual so long as the situation persists.”

German influence

EU ministers didn’t adopt a formal statement on Ukraine.

But in a sign of the non-paper signatories’ influence on EU opinion, Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, repeated the paper’s main ideas in her press briefing.

She said interal Ukrainian reform is needed so that “the benefits of the transformation agenda reach the people who were, two years ago, exactly two years ago, on the Maidan asking for reforms.”

Asked if the EU is putting more weight on Ukraine reform than on Russia’s Minsk non-compliance, she said: “Not at all.”

“The decision taken by the [EU] Council last December, to roll over the [economic] sanctions on Russia, is a clear message on this.”

Sanctions

EU diplomats have also started talks on extending the life of asset freezes imposed on the former Ukrainian regime and on Russians and Ukrainians deemed guilty of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.

The Ukrainian regime sanctions, which include former president Viktor Yanukovych, are due to expire on 6 March. But Mogherini has proposed extending them by one year.

The sovereignty blacklist, which includes Russian oligarchs deemed to be Kremlin cronies, expires on 15 March.

Several individuals on both lists have launched cases in the EU court in Luxembourg.

But an EU diplomatic source said - based on “the feeling in the room” during initial EU talks last week - that both blacklists will remain in force.

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