Friday

23rd Oct 2020

EU should save Ukraine from Russia, NGO says

  • Russian cruiser - the Black Sea fleet has been stationed in Crimea since 1783 (Photo: Wikipedia)

The European Union should formally recognise Ukraine's right to join the EU and offer it a "solidarity clause" to help prevent Russia from undermining Kiev's pro-democratic government in the wake of the Georgia conflict, a European foreign affairs think-tank has said.

"The next focal point for security tensions - although not for war - might be Ukraine," the European Foreign Policy Council (ECFR) warned in a flash report on Monday (25 August), urging Brussels to make a strong show of friendship with Ukraine at an EU foreign ministers' meeting on 5 September and the EU-Ukraine summit on 9 September.

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In the "mid-term," the ECFR advised the EU to make a political declaration endorsing Ukraine's EU perspective, draft a road-map for a visa-free travel deal, and help Ukraine to ready itself for NATO membership and the ejection of Russia's Black Sea fleet from its old home in Crimea.

A new bilateral EU-Ukraine treaty - currently under negotiation - should also legally oblige the EU to "consult and assist Ukraine in case of challenges to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine."

The ECFR study sees Russia's assault on Georgia as part of a wider plan to rebuild the old Soviet sphere of influence, noting that some pro-Kremlin analysts such as Sergei Markov recently floated the idea of a Russia-led "East European Union," which would mimic EU integration and include countries such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

"What matters here is Russia's drive to become the centre (and the sheriff) of a pole of influence in a multi-polar world and a bipolar Europe," the ECFR said.

Tensions flare

Russia-Ukraine tensions flared in recent weeks after Moscow accused Kiev of supplying arms to Georgia, and Kiev tried to limit Russia's use of its Crimea-stationed warships against Georgia.

Inside Ukraine, pro-western President Viktor Yushchenko's senior aide, Andriy Kyslynskiy, last week accused Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of striking a secret deal with the Kremlin in return for Russia's support when she runs in the next Ukrainian presidential elections in 2010.

Mr Kyslynskiy also said political "interference" by pro-Kremlin elements in the Ukrainian establishment has reached levels unseen since the run-up to the 2004 Orange Revolution, adding that Russian intelligence is funding and steering Crimean separatist groups.

Some 60 percent of the 2 million people who live in Crimea are ethnically Russian, hundreds of thousands of whom secretly hold Russian passports, the ECFR says.

Crimea was historically Russian and has been home to the Black Sea fleet since 1783. It became part of Ukraine when Ukraine won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, with the Russian fleet set to leave by 2017 under a bilateral deal.

In the wider Ukraine, about 25 percent of the 50 million-strong population are Russophone, most of whom live in the east of the country and many of whom oppose Ukraine's integration with NATO and the EU.

Warning shots already fired

On 22 August, some 2,500 people held an anti-Georgia rally in the eastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk. The same day, 50 people in Simferopol in Crimea called for the peninsula to rejoin Russia, with the crowd nonetheless gaining coverage in Russian state media.

In late July, anti-NATO protestors in Crimea threw stones at Ukrainian police, who fired warning shots in the air. A second group used small boats to try and block NATO warships leave the port of Odessa to take part in a naval drill.

"[Russia] is likely to play on deep rifts within Ukraine on the 'Russia question' to try and influence the country's future," the ECFR said. "[The EU] must demonstrate that an escalation of tensions in the post-Soviet space will be met with more, not less, engagement in the Eastern neighbourhood."

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