EU and US: Kremlin still seeking to grab land in Ukraine (1)
In a joint telephone briefing in which ERR News participated in, the top US and EU diplomats in Ukraine emphasized that the Western aim is to help Ukraine overcome the systemic weaknesses from its past and give a boost to reforms.
In a wide ranging assessment of the situation in Ukraine, the US and EU ambassadors to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt and Jan Tombiński respectively, said that whereas Ukraine is implementing the Minsk peace agreement, Russia and its proxies are not. Both were optimistic in Ukraine's capability to implement reforms and improving its economy.
Tombiński recalled how President Vladimir Putin said in 2005 that he has nothing against Ukraine joining the European Union, but suddenly this direction was questioned. “Already in 2013, well before the Maidan revolution, Ukraine was under huge economical pressure from Russia, which was trying to impose a commercial ban on different Ukrainian goods with the aim to force Ukrainian leadership, still under President Viktor Yanukovych, to change opinion and not to sign the association agreement with the EU. It ended up with all these known events that started in November 2013 as a response to a sudden call by President Yanukovych to postpone the signing of the agreement, but the society hadn’t been taken into account and the society said no.”
Pyatt, who took the post in Ukraine shortly before Maidan, said that the EU and the US have worked closely together in Ukraine, with the same strategic objectives – to see a country which is free, whose territorial integrity is upheld, and which is moving towards closer alignment with European values and European institutions.
“Our principles and shared transatlantic values are at stake in the conflict underway today in Ukraine. The cardinal principle of respect for international borders and territorial integrity has been jeopardized. Ukraine is the front line of freedom in Europe. Our policies and efforts have been successful over the past year and a half because we have stayed united in our efforts and coordinated in our analysis,” Pyatt said.
Ukraine fighting two wars
Pyatt said that it's very important to understand that there is still a real war going on in Ukraine.
“I have said publicly that Ukraine is fighting two wars. One is the war against Russian aggression and the second one is the war for reform.”
“Russian drones are operating over Ukrainian territory every single day. Russian cruise surface-to-air missile systems are operating on Ukrainian territory. And as we were reminded by the capture of a Russian soldier and Russian origin ammunition last weekend, Russia continues to fuel the conflict here with the military equipment that it is sending across Ukraine’s sovereign international border,” Pyatt said, adding that Kremlin and its proxies are maintaining the capability to continue seeking to grab territory at a time and place of the Kremlin’s choosing.
Pyatt put the responsibility to end the conflict clearly on Russian Federation. “The road map to a solution of this terrible war lies in full implementation of the Minsk Agreement. Ukraine is implementing Minsk. Russia and its proxies are not.”
He made it clear that the conflict-ridden areas belong to Ukraine. “This is Ukrainian sovereign territory. Everything up to the international border and that’s not going to change.”
Pyatt drew attention to humanitarian crisis, claiming to be the consequence of Russia’s aggression in the East Ukraine. “It is totally unacceptable for the separatists to be blocking access to Ukrainian territory, to territory controlled by Russia and the separatists, by humanitarian shipments.”
Pyatt also argued that the whole phenomenon of far-right movement taking over in Ukraine “has been vastly exaggerated by Russian propaganda outlets”. “The right wing in Ukraine – Pravy Sektor, Svoboda, other groups, clearly have not found political resonance.”
Pyatt said that the US is not expecting a military solution to the conflict, but made it clear that Ukraine has a sovereign right to defend its own territory, which is a basis for the US defense assistance to the country, currently mainly in a form of training programs. “The Ukrainian military today is a different and more capable force than that which encountered the 'little green men' of Russia in Crimea in early March of 2014,” he said.
“You can see, for instance, in the Ukrainian military’s successful defense of Marinka in June in response to a Russian and separatist-led land grab in that town, west of Donetsk city, that the Ukrainians have become much better at integrating intelligence, at defending their lines,” he added.
Tombiński said that there is no embargo of exporting military-related equipment to Ukraine, therefore, it is in the hands of the EU member states. “European Union does not operate as a subject in this field, the member states are free in doing so if it is not in a breach of international obligations.”
Currently, nine different European states supply some non-lethal equipment to Ukrainian armed forces.
Ukraine making progress with economic reforms
Pyatt said in a rather positive note that the Ukrainian reform policies and modernization is moving ahead. “There is real progress being made. Whether it is cleaning up the financial sector, implementing a new police law and standing up new police forces, advancing reform on the area of anti-corruption, prosecutorial reform, cleaning up the energy sector, reducing the unsustainable seven percent of GDP that Ukraine was investing in subsidies to Naftogaz. We are all impressed by what Ukraine has done so far.”
Tombiński emhasized the importance of building bottom up new layers of administration in order to help Ukraine implement the civil society and laws.
“The big issue is how to change the country with a big part of people who still are children and products of the past system. The EU puts a lot of emphasis on reform of public administration, of civil service, in order to have tools, how to implement laws. On the level of top political elite of Ukraine we have all understanding for what is to be done but then the devil lies with the implementation. And for the implementation we try to help Ukraine in finding new people who are not mentally formed during the past period where absence of action was the model, and not taking risks and implementing the laws,” he said.
No connection between Iran deal and Ukraine
In a response to a question, Pyatt ruled out any connection between the recent Iran deal, which was supported by Russia, and Ukraine conflict.
“There is zero linkage between our policy in Iran and our policy in Ukraine. Russia acted in its own self-interest to cooperate with us in striking a very important agreement on the Iran matter. In Ukraine we continue to have profound differences over Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. And under no circumstances are we going to dilute those concerns in furtherance of some unrelated policy issue,” he said.
Almost 7,000 people have been killed and over 1 million Ukrainians internally displaced since the war in Eastern Ukraine started in April, 2014.