Friday

23rd Feb 2018

EU close to face-saving deal on Ukraine

  • EU flags at the pro-Western Maidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014 (Photo: mac_ivan)

EU states are close to a face-saving deal on the Netherlands and Ukraine and have a “consensus” on the roll-over of Russia sanctions, diplomats say.

The Dutch problem is to be discussed by EU leaders at a lunch during Thursday’s (15 December) summit in Brussels.

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  • Rutte (l) needs an EU deal that will get through the Dutch parliament (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The Netherlands froze ratification of an EU treaty designed to align Ukraine’s economy with the West after a non-binding referendum against the move in April.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte’s proposed solution is to attach a one-and-a-half page statement to the EU-Ukraine accord to assuage Dutch voters’ concerns.

The draft text was discussed by diplomats on Monday in what one EU source said was a meeting with “a lot of emotions and tensions”.

A second EU source said the Dutch statement was to have three main points: “That the [EU-Ukraine] agreement doesn’t give Ukraine the status of a candidate country for accession; that it doesn’t grant Ukrainian nationals access to the EU labour market; [and that there is] no [EU] obligation to provide security guarantees, military aid or assistance to Ukraine”.

By Wednesday, diplomats reported “good progress” on a statement that was to be “very dry, legalistic, [and] factual”, however.

“There is much good will around the table, including from the most fervent friends of Ukraine. It's about saving the agreement and its ratification,” a senior EU diplomat said.

He said Rutte’s demands were “no problem”, even though it remained to be seen if the Dutch parliament would agree.

The EU diplomat also said the Dutch statement would not alter the content of the Ukraine treaty because the treaty had not promised Ukrainian enlargement in the first place.

“The decision [statement] is a tautology, but it’s politically needed to reassure those in the Netherlands and in Europe who see premises [in the EU-Ukraine pact] of something that could lead to Ukraine's EU accession”, he said.

An EU source said that Rutte, like the other 27 EU leaders, recognised the “geopolitical importance” of the Ukraine accord.

The source said that the collapse of the Ukraine treaty would be a “victory” for Russia, which was trying to keep Ukraine in its old sphere of influence.

Russia sanctions

The EU summit is also expected to see French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel recommend a roll-over of economic sanctions against Russia.

An EU diplomat said there was a “consensus” that the sanctions should be extended for six months because Russia had not complied with a ceasefire pact.

The so-called Minsk pact is designed to stop Russian-controlled forces from waging war in east Ukraine.

Diplomats said there would be no political debate on Russia on Thursday and that the sanctions decision would be taken “quickly”.

One EU source added that Russia’s actions in Syria, where it stands accused of targeting civilians, a war crime, was “not an element in its favour” on Ukraine either.

The US has also urged the EU to maintain sanctions.

Das Yee, a senior US diplomat dealing with Europe, said in Brussels on Wednesday that “we welcome the fact, the likely outcome of this [EU] decision to roll over”.

He said the principle at stake was the inviolability of borders in post-Cold War Europe and that “if this principle can be violated with impunity, then it would be very difficult to prevent future occurrences”.

The US president-elect, Donald Trump, has said he wanted to mend ties with Russia, but Yee said that America’s fundamental interest, of maintaining stability in Europe, was “not going to change”.

Malign influence

The Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine treaty in April was marked by a Russian media campaign to sway public opinion in the Netherlands.

US, British, and German spy chiefs recently also warned that Russia was using propaganda and cyberattacks to sway election results in America and in Europe.

Yee said that the US and the EU had been monitoring the threat of Russia’s “malign influence” for the past two years.

He said that attempts to sway elections, mentioning also a Russia-linked plot to sway a vote in Montenegro in October, violated post-Cold War principles on respect for sovereignty.

He said EU states should “push back” against Russia by making public more information on the “sources” of disinformation campaigns.

“Attempts to influence elections, our elections, or in Montenegro have added to the growing body of evidence that we need to act,” the US diplomat said.

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