24/04/18 | 15/04 (01/04/2015), MEPS |

I really believe the EU must keep firmly in sanctions to establish channels for dialogue with Russia with the fulfillment of the political arrangements of Minsk II

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia represents one of the greatest challenges the European Union must face. In order to understand this, it is necessary to take into account that Ukraine, a country with 45 million people, has two souls: one pro-Russian (south and east) and another one pro-European (in the capital, Kiev, and the west).

On November 21, 2013, one day after the Ukrainian government suspended the signing of the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement with the EU, the protests known as Euromaidan began. The Agreement with the EU came into frontal opposition with the Eurasian Customs Union, which includes Russia, Belarus and several countries in Central Asia. At that time, the Ukrainian population was divided: 38% supported the Customs Union with Russia, while 37.8% gave their support to the Association Agreement with the EU.

The new Ukrainian government signed in March 2014 the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, instrument par excellence of the European Neighbourhood Policy, which aimed to strengthen political, economic and trade relations between both sides. This Agreement was ratified some months later by the simultaneous signing of the European Parliament and the Supreme Rada. However, at the last minute, it was decided to postpone the provisional application of the trade provisions until 2016.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have not stopped since then, but just the opposite. The annexation of Crimea and Sebastapol by Russia was condemned as illegal by the EU. The causes of the shooting down of the MH17 plane, which took place in July 2014 in Donetsk killing 300 people, are still been investigated. The EU sanctions on Russia, and the Russian veto against certain European products, they have had strong economic impact in both territories. Moreover, the humanitarian consequences are quite dramatic, with a war that has left more than 5,000 dead, a million of internal displaced and 600,000 refugees in neighboring countries.

Ukraine and Russia belong –together with the threat of Daesh in North Africa and the Middle East– to the current flame ring surrounding the EU. The challenges Europe must face in its eastern and southern borders are huge, that is the reason why a true common foreign and security policy with a renewed neighborhood policy is needed more than ever.

Within the EU there are differences between two main positions: the former Soviet republics have a more belligerent position against Russia (calling for more sanctions and even arming Ukraine), while there are other countries that defend a more balanced approach and an a greater dialogue with Russia.

In my opinion, the EU has a crucial and unique role regarding this conflict, which is based on three fundamental and interrelated elements:

In the first place, there is an urgent need for the EU to use all its resources and diplomacy to get the ceasefire to be respected in eastern Ukraine. Minsk agreements reached last February 11 by Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine (known as “Minsk II”) should be apply on both sides, and the EU should encourage this roadmap to be respected, since there will not be a solution to this conflict other than a political and dialogued one. The EU was created to ensure a place of peace within its borders, and promote it effectively outside. Therefore, the Union should always boost to go on using the dialogue and political agreement. It is all about achieving a balance between applying reasonable sanctions and keep diplomatic channels open, demanding respect for the law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Secondly, the EU should continue to provide material and political support to Ukraine in order to get its democratical and autonomous development. To do this, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine must be respected. Moreover, armed groups in the Russian-Ukrainian border must take withdrawal. The EU must also remain firm in its request of holding local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the need for an inclusive national dialogue on issues such as constitutional reform and decentralization. The EU should also remain committed to support the most vulnerable people affected by the conflict, which has already been allocated 95M euros in humanitarian aid. For its part, Ukraine should do their homework too. It is necessary that the Ukrainian government accelerates the implementation of political reforms in order to respond to the aspirations of the population to modernize, democratize the country, fight against the right-wing groups and respect the minorities rights. Likewise, economic reforms are required to tackle the alarming corruption and create a suitable environment for investors.

Thirdly, the EU must decide if Russia has to be an adversary or an strategic partner, as long as it respects international law and human rights. This implies the condemnation of the annexation of a territory against international laws, and the most resounding rejection of political opponents assassinations. That is not proper of a democracy. At the same time, Russia should be an important partner not only for neighborhood issues, but also because it may be a necessary ally in solving many key international issues like Syria, Iran, the peace process in the Middle East, the fight against terrorism or other sectoral issues such as energy. We are forced to understand one another. For all these reasons, I believe the EU must keep the firmness in the sanctions which have been imposed so as to establish channels for dialogue with Russia. Channels that lead to the implementation of the Minsk II political agreements.//