08 January, 20:19
Ambassador of Ukraine to the European Union Kostiantyn Yelisieiev told UNIAN when to expect the Old World’s decision on visa-free regime for Ukrainians, what prevents the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement from being fully implemented and why the European Union should render more assistance to Ukraine in confrontation with Russia
Yelisieiev: The EU has become the deterrent to the Kremlin’s brutal, aggressive policy / UNIAN Photo
What were last year’s milestones in terms of Ukraine-EU relations?
Over the last year we clearly saw that the EU has practically become the key external guarantor of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, neither the UN, nor the OSCE, nor any other international organization, but the EU. And it is the greatest discovery of last year. No Ukrainian security strategy has ever envisaged that the EU might become the external factor for supporting Ukraine’s national security. In fact, it is the EU which became the deterrent to the Kremlin’s brutal, aggressive policy. For me as the Ambassador it is the key conclusion.
Will this also be the case this year, given the differences among the EU member states, some of which have already raised the question of scaling back sanctions against Russia?
This year, the EU faces an important challenge of preserving the united and solid position on Ukraine. It is not an easy task amid the onslaught of Russian propaganda aimed at splitting up, putting at loggerheads the EU countries and their foreign policies towards Ukraine. That is exactly why supporting and preserving the EU’s united support to Ukraine will become our key priority with a view to defending the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our state on the basis of the President’s peace plan. That’s the first thing.
Secondly, it is important that the EU should focus its efforts on steps which, in my opinion, can contribute to deescalating the situation in the Donbas and, subsequently, contribute to the return of the Crimea. And in this regard I count not on sanctions in the first place, but on providing Ukraine with comprehensive political, financial, economic, humanitarian and even legal aid. Stable and strong Ukraine is the best guarantee for us to stand up for our national interests in response to Russian aggression. This is what Moscow fears most and wants to prevent from happening.
And why should the EU do it?
EU citizens should understand that today the point is about not only the fate of Ukraine, but also peace and security in Europe. Today, nobody is safe from Russian troops violating the borders of some European countries tomorrow, even despite being NATO members. My position is that we should not be naïve. I doubt that soldiers of several large NATO member countries will defend smaller member countries against Russian aggression which may be carried out in the form of a “hybrid war,” involving “men in green” (masked gunmen in unmarked uniforms), as it would be difficult to determine whether the Alliance’s Article 5 has been violated.
We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. In 2014, Europe commemorated the centenary since the start of World War I – 1914. Exactly one hundred years later, in 2014, Russia committed an act of aggression against Ukraine. In 2018, Europe will commemorate the centenary of the completion of World War I. It was in that period, though short – from 1918 to 1919, that Ukraine was independent. But at that time, large European countries, having signed the Treaty of Versailles, opted for the large and influential, albeit unpredictable, Bolshevik Russia, which leaded to vanishing of young and independent Ukraine. And three years later, in 1922, the Soviet Union was established. Indeed, Ukrainian independence became then a bargaining chip in the game of the European powers. I do not draw direct parallels, but the comparisons inevitably come to mind.
Today, the fate of the European Union as a project is in fact being decided upon. Brussels must urgently develop a strategy to communicate with its citizens and explain to them clearly and precisely why they have to pay for peace and stability in Ukraine. Everyone must remember that peace is priceless.
And what about the direct dialogue with Russia as is promoted by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Ms. Mogherini?
Since Federica Mogherini’s appointment as EU High Commissioner on 1 October 2014, we have seen a certain change in accents in her Office’s position towards the conflict in Ukraine. It was noticed not only by the Ukrainian side, but also by our partners. We truly hope that, following the recent visit to Ukraine, Ms. Mogherini realized that her statements should be balanced and cautious. We truly hope that she will not repeat the mistakes she made as Italy’s Foreign Minister when, in the wake of Russia’s flagrant aggression against Ukraine, she still went to Moscow, inviting Putin to take part in the ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan on 16-17 October). I suppose that under present circumstances the idea of inviting Russia to a dialogue to settle the conflict looks like conniving with the aggressor, and it is doomed to failure.
Why do you think so?
That is because, as the saying goes, we’ve been through this in the past. And it did not work. I am talking about the War in Georgia in 2008, during which the EU decided to adopt tactics of involving Moscow in a dialogue in order to induce Russia to comply with the Medvedev-Sarkozy peace plan, which had been adopted by all the parties to the conflict. Shortly after, there appeared statements of Russia’s non-compliance with this plan. As a result, the issue of Georgia’s territorial integrity has still not been settled. It reminds you of something, doesn’t it?
But despite this, in 2010, the EU offered Russia a new policy of partnership for modernization, then boosted talks on a new enhanced agreement and started negotiations on a visa-free regime. And a few years later, Russia’s President illegally annexed the Crimea and keeps on terrorizing not only Ukraine, but also the whole Europe. The dialogue policy has not worked out.
I think that this time it will not work as well. European partners must not cherish illusions that the Russian President will ever step back – he will continue preventing Ukraine from implementing its sovereign European choice.
I would like to emphasize that today it is not a war between Russia and Ukraine and not a civil conflict in the territory of Ukraine. What is happening is, in fact, a geopolitical confrontation between two sets of values: on the one hand, European values, and on the other hand, totalitarianism and kleptocracy. The future of the whole European Union depends on how the situation in Ukraine will be settled.
The EU plans to start a discussion on developing a new strategy towards Russia. What are Ukraine’s expectations in this respect?
Over the past five years, we have repeatedly stressed that the main drawback in EU-Russia relations is the lack of a comprehensive, consolidated and clear strategy for such relations. We would really like to see such a strategy developed as soon as possible. However, before that, the EU should clearly define the strategic placement of Ukraine in its priorities. Once that is done, they can elaborate a proper strategy towards Russia. I emphasize once more, without a clear vision of Ukraine in the European processes as an independent state having a European perspective, any EU strategy towards Russia is doomed to failure and will have no future.
What are your predictions for the EU visa-free regime for Ukraine?
Our priority is the European Commission’s announcement of a positive decision on granting Ukraine the visa-free regime before the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit on 21-22 May 2015. Then, time is needed to take a range of decisions within the EU for the purpose of bringing it into force. I mean the consent of the EU Council and voting in the European Parliament.
Are there any grounds to suppose that this will be a positive decision?
The next three months will be crucial in terms of whether we succeed in achieving it or not. In other words, during the next three months we will have to apply our best efforts to implement the remaining parts of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan. During this period, intensive missions of the European Commission’s experts to Ukraine will be taking place to verify the implementation by Ukraine of the second phase of the Action Plan, and afterwards, the EC will prepare a report. In this respect, it is of high importance to immediately resolve the issue of biometric passports.
If it comes to resolving this issue in the EU Council and in the European Parliament, how is it possible to ensure there is a favourable environment for a positive decision, given the intensification of the Russian lobby?
In this context, two factors are important to us: the position of each EU member country and the position of the European Parliament. That is exactly why we plan to work in these two areas. However, the EP will definitely be of key significance in terms of granting the visa-free regime, providing Ukraine with additional macro-financial aid and the general political support to Ukraine against the aggression of the Russian Federation.
After the elections in 2014, we managed to establish an active dialogue with the new composition of the European Parliament, we started the work of the Ukraine-EU Association Parliamentary Committee, and established an informal group of friends called “the Friends of European Ukraine in the European Parliament,” which already includes around a hundred MPs; we also managed to establish a pro-Ukrainian majority in the EP. The fact that around 570 MPs voted in favour of ratifying the Association Agreement on 16 September 2015 shows that there is a stable pro-Ukrainian majority in the European Parliament.
But in recent months, a Russian propaganda machine has also significantly intensified its activities in the European Parliament. Besides, the Russian side have no qualms on financially motivating certain political forces and certain MPs. And this lobby is becoming even more active.
Not long ago, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the EU Mr. Chizhov said that the Russian side welcomed the delay in the implementation of the Association Agreement in regard to the Free Trade Area, and would favour the delay’s prolongation. Should Ukraine therefore expect new challenges?
The key priority for the coming year should be providing the appropriate conditions for the effective implementation of the trade part of the Association Agreement starting from 1 January 2016. In this regard, we have agreed on three key principles with the EU. There will be no new negotiations; and there shall be absolutely no amendments to the Agreement, no matter how much someone might want them. Secondly, we are against further delay of the implementation of the trade and economic part of the Agreement after 31 December 2015. Thirdly, Ukraine and the EU are ready for constructive discussions with Russia on the existing parameters of the application of the Agreement’s trade part regarding such issues as technical trade barriers, customs administration, sanitary and phytosanitary measures. I would like this position to be strictly adhered to by all the sides.
In other words, will Ukraine undoubtedly begin the implementation of the economic part of the Association Agreement?
A possible challenge for us is the ratification of the Agreement’s text by all the EU member states. As of today, it has been ratified only by 11 states. We hope that the ratification process will be carried out this year in all EU member countries. This matter is not only of a legal, but also political nature, because the sooner the agreement is ratified and enters into force, the stronger the position of Ukraine will be in negotiations with other partners, including the Russian Federation, and the less illusions Moscow will harbour to prevent us from starting the process of implementation of the Agreement’s trade part. So I hope that the large EU member states which we expect the ratification from – these are Germany, Great Britain, France – will feel their own political responsibility.
What is your attitude towards Russia’s offer to start negotiations on creating a free trade zone between the Eurasian Union and the EU?
Ukraine has always supported the prospect of establishing a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok which would be based on the WTO principles and regulations and comply with the fundamental rules of international law. It was the Ukrainian side that initiated the meeting in Minsk on 26 August 2014 to settle the situation in eastern Ukraine which, in fact, was the first event in the format of the EU – Ukraine – the Eurasian trio (Belarus-Kazakhstan-Russia).
However, under present circumstances, against the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing flagrant aggression against Ukraine, it is too early to talk about the real prospects of initiating talks between the EU and the Eurasian Union on establishing the free trade zone. Moreover, the Eurasian Union is but at the stage of transition from virtual idea to coming into being.
The undoubted factor for establishing the relevant dialogue between the EU and the Eurasian Union is the meeting by Moscow of clear political and economic conditions. First of all, Russia must immediately cease its aggression against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including taking steps to stabilize the situation in the Donbas and discontinuing the illegal annexation of the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as properly compensating Ukraine for the damage it has caused. Secondly, Russia must strictly comply with all of its commitments undertaken within the WTO membership. Thirdly, Russia must abolish unjustified trade restrictions and protectionist measures against Ukraine, countries of the Eastern Partnership and the EU, which were introduced recently at the bilateral level, contrary to the WTO regulations. Fourthly, all members of the Eurasian Union have to be WTO members.
It is crucially important that the launch of the dialogue should be considered in connection with resolving the “Ukrainian issue.”
Is it already clear when Ukraine and the EU will resume talks with Russia on gas issues?
I do not exclude that the dialogue on this issue will be soon resumed. We have to decide what to do next: to move to a so-called summer package and reach agreements on this issue or to wait for the judgment of the Stockholm arbitration. But this process should take into account not only the position of the Ukrainian side, but also that of the EU and Russia.
Our principled position is that any talks on problem areas with Russia must be held only through the mediation or participation of the EU. We have learned it well from the experience gained in 2014.
I also want to notify that we are getting ready to hold an international investment conference on reforming Ukraine’s gas market. This is not just about an opportunity to determine who will manage our gas transportation system and on what conditions, but also concerns the use of our facilities, including underground gas storages. This conference may take place at the beginning of 2015, most probably in Brussels.
I want to stress that the year 2015 is of great importance to us as the implementation of the third energy package starts on 1 January. This concerns establishing an independent regulator and the clear separation of functions of the management systems for the transportation, storage and supply of gas.
What other events should we should expect this year?
We proceed from the fact that political dialogue will be no less intensive than last year when there were 139 delegations, half of them at the ministerial level and above. As for key events, there will be the first visit to Ukraine of newly appointed President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in early 2015, Ukraine-EU summit which will be held in Kyiv, an international conference on support for Ukraine, the meeting in the format of the European Commission College – the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Also, the visits of Ukraine’s President to Brussels will take place, and the date of the next meeting of the Association Council will be set. Besides, we have almost agreed on the date of the inaugural meeting of the Ukraine-EU Parliamentary Association Committee – in early February. And in the coming weeks, there will be the first visit to Brussels of Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Volodymyr Hroisman.
Iryna Somer, Brussels