EU must increase support to Ukrainian people

As Ukraine continues to suffer under Russian aggression, Ana Gomes has returned from a trip to Kyiv to assess the situation.

By Ana Gomes

21 Apr 2015

In March, I was part of a European parliament delegation to Kyiv made up of members of parliament's budgets committee and security and defence subcommittee. Following this visit, I have concluded that we simply must do more to support Ukraine.

The EU played no part in negotiating the Minsk II agreement and its 'Normandy format' of senior representatives from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France has fuelled differing perceptions among the member states, affecting their response. 

This conflict is not just between Russia and Ukraine as Moscow sees the EU as part of the clash. What matters is how we react, as conflict surrounds the EU and terrorism is lurking. 

To the east, Russia is the aggressor and Ukraine the victim. By annexing Crimea, Russia has violated international law, namely the 1994 Budapest protocol, which demarcated borders in exchange for the denuclearisation of Ukraine. 

Led by its president Vladimir Putin, Russia is violating not only the Crimea Tartars' human rights, but those of all Ukrainians who yearn to see their country free from the old corrupt oligarchic system like the one that has kept Putin in power.


In the Donbass region, locals have been mobilised to act as rebels and provide a cover for thousands of Russian military and tanks crossing the border. Destruction has been spreading - the downing of flight MH17, over 5000 civilians killed and many more wounded, and around two million refugees and internally displaced citizens.

While Russian propaganda has portrayed Ukrainians as fascists, Moscow is not merely hosting Nazis and extremists - it is also subsidising numerous anti-democracy populists. The EU has yet to take action against this, for example by broadcasting Euronews in Russian in order to provide truthful information for the population of Russia.

About a year ago, when former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the Euromaidan, Ukraine only nominally had police, armed forces or indeed a government. Reorganising all of this is a daunting long-term process, during which Ukrainians must simultaneously defend themselves under tremendous financial and other governance constraints. They have now been forced to repair tanks from museums and use them on the frontline.

Faced with ceasefire violations, Ukrainians may see Europeans as cynical at best when it comes to their assistance. In the EU, many have advised against arming Ukraine for fear of escalation, due to the fact that Russia is a nuclear power. But this is exactly why Putin must be stopped and made to see sense through effective and targeted EU sanctions.

We also need to consider Russia's own security perceptions - further Nato enlargement, for example, should not take place. However, we cannot let Putin thwart the democratic will of the people of Ukraine in an attempt to reinstate Soviet Russia's hegemony.

Ukraine has the right to procure arms to defend its people and territory. The EU cannot supply them, but it needs to ensure that member states do not cooperate militarily, or in any other way, with the aggressor.

Ukraine can never win by military means - the main fight is political. Reforming state and political parties, combating corruption and the oligarchic system and progressing in governance despite the war effort - that is how Ukrainians can defeat Putin.

The aggression is reinforcing Ukraine's sense of nationhood. This was discernible in Dnipropetrovsk, where I accompanied monitors from the organisation for security and cooperation in Europe. There, everyone's mother tongue was Russian, but no one wanted to be Russian.

Putin may inadvertently help build a nation, yet the challenge is to successfully build a state. That is where EU has a key role to play. The EU's advisory mission must be equipped, technically and politically, to support those in government, parliament and civil society who push for reform. 

Liberalising visa policy is important for fostering exchange between people and demonstrating our solidarity with Ukraine. Accountable governance in Ukraine is not just vital to Ukrainians - it is also a strategic test for the EU.

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