Ukraine has asked the EU to dispatch an EU-led Security and Defence (CSDP) mission to Donbas, which, according to Kyiv, should be the biggest ever, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine's Ambassador to the EU told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.
Kostiantyn Yelisieiev is a career diplomat. He previously worked in France, and as deputy representative of Ukraine to the EU. Yelisieiev has served as Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister since 2007.
He spoke to EurActiv’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.
Putin recently confessed that the annexation of Crimea was executed according to a plan put in place weeks before the so-called referendum, and that the “little green men” were not there by accident. What does this belated confession mean?
For Ukraine, this was not a surprise. For many months, we tried to send similar signals to our EU partners. We did it in March 2014, when Russia started implementing this special operation. In my official letters to High Representative Catherine Ashton, I clearly pointed out the real plans of President Putin.
At that time, all our letters and requests were ignored.
At that time, we proposed that maximum efforts be made to avoid the illegal annexation of Crimea, and we pointed out negative signs in the Donbas as well. We also proposed a CSDP mission. But unfortunately all our information and requests were ignored.
The EU had become hostage to Russian propaganda, whcih refused to recognise from where the little green men came, and refused to recognise the presence of Russian troops and weaponry in Crimea.
The confession by Putin that this was a well-planned operation of Russian special forces is a clear example that the Ukrainian authorities were right. Now we are waiting for an official reaction to what was mentioned by Putin. We expect the EU to issue a strong statement, a clear position, condemning such behaviour by the Kremlin vis-à-vis the territorial integrity of an independent country.
Some say that Putin wants to make Ukraine a failed state. And the economic news coming from Kyiv is not good. How would you comment?
You are right that the first short-term goal of the Russian leadership is to disrupt the process of financial and economic stabilisation, and not permit Ukraine to proceed with the needed internal political, economic and financial reforms. Indeed, the economic situation is not an easy one, because my country is in a de facto state of war. We've lost about 25% of our industrial potential because of the aggression of the Russian Federation against the Donbas. We lost a lot of assets because of the illegal annexation of Crimea. And of course you should take into the internally displaced persons. Officially, one million people need humanitarian assistance.
I was in Kyiv a few weeks ago and I noticed that protests are organised on a daily basis not far from the Maidan Square. I noticed that those protests are well-organised, with professionally-made banners, and that they basically serve Russia. Is the Kremlin planning an anti-Maidan someday soon?
Indeed, for the last couple of months Russia decided to intensify the subversive activities of its special services in Ukraine. There are a lot of examples of terrorist acts provoked and orgainised by Russian-backed terrorists. A recent one took place in Kharkiv during the first celebration of Maidan, and there are a lot of small terrorist attacks in some cities in the southern part of Ukraine, like Mykolaiv, like Kherson. Like Odessa.
You also need to take into account the unhealthy security climate in the Russian Federation. The recent killing of famous Russian human rights defender Boris Nemtsov is a clear symptom. In this context, Russia would like to export terrorism to its neighbourhood, including to Ukraine. This issue needs to be thoroughly discussed here in the EU.
How about the idea that the West should arm Ukraine? Wouldn’t it be counterproductive, because Russia would always send more arms?
We called on the EU to provide us with defensive lethal weapons. This issue is very sensitive. Currently, we are working on a bilateral basis in order to get defensive lethal weapons to stop Russian aggression. Of course there are arguments against sending defensive weapons to Ukraine. But we need these weapons in order to defend our territorial integrity in line with article 51 of the UN charter. We need these weapons to defend civilians. We need a more modern anti-aircraft defence system.
But there are no Russian aircraft over Ukraine?
Sooner or later we will need to have such a system. But this is not weaponry that could be used for offensive purposes. And we need armoured vehicles to protect the lives of Ukrainian soldiers. You know, in Ukraine we are using weaponry of the 20th century, while Russia is using weaponry of the 21st century, and even experimenting with weapons for the 22nd century.
What are the other main requests of Ukraine to the EU?
We have asked to reinforce EU sanctions against the Russian aggressor, because Russia continues to violate provisions of the Minsk agreement, including over Debaltsevo. Unfortunately, there is no unity in the EU regarding the introduction of such sanctions. We also have officially asked the EU to deploy an EU-led CSDP mission on the territory of Ukraine, in Donbas, in order to help implement the Minsk agreements.
Why would a CSDP mission be better than the current OSCE mission?
One, because the mandate of the OSCE mission is very limited. Second, the OSCE mission doesn't have a very good track record, in terms of crisis management and conflict settlement. Let’s remember the situation in Transnistria, for example [which resulted in a frozen conflict]. And thirdly, by resorting to a simple reinforcement of OSCE mission, the EU would be choosing the easy solution.
How big should a CSDP mission in Ukraine be?
In our view, it should be the most ambitious so far. [The largest CSDP mission so far EUFOR-ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina had a maximum number of personnel of 700.] The mission could be the most ambitious of the 21st century. Who knows? But in the 21st century, we have a full-scale undeclared war. That’s why extraordinary action should be taken, not only in terms of sanctions.
What are the next steps in Ukraine-EU relations? There is an upcoming visit of President Poroshenko to Germany, if I am not mistaken?
The agenda of EU-Ukraine relations is quite intensive. My president is in permanent contact with EU leaders. He has telephone conversations almost every day with Council President Tusk, with German Chancellor Merkel, with French President Hollande. Indeed, in the coming days, we expect the official visit of President Poroshenko to Berlin. We are also preparing for the visit of Commission President Juncker to Kyiv, accompanied by High Representative Mogherini, during this month. We are also preparing for the EU-Ukraine bilateral summit in April, and another important event will be the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, on 21-22 May.
You said during a recent public event that if Ukraine doesn’t obtain the visa-free regime at the Riga summit, the EU would be making a big present to Mr. Putin.
Indeed, the refusal of the EU to send a positive message to respond to the aspirations of Ukraine by granting visa-free travel will have very negative repercussions. At the same time, it will be seen as a signal of support to Putin’s aggression. Because his objective is to disrupt the reform agenda of Ukraine, to not allow Ukraine to become closer to the EU, a refusal to grant a visa-free regime would be a big reward.