26-27 February 2014 EESC, Brussels:
Ukrainians should be free to shape the future of their country.
Europe looking at 2014
2014 was going to be a crucial year for all Europeans, having them to bring their vote once again and giving an idea to the European parliament how they were coping with the economical crisis Europeans had to face. The May election is crucial because for too long, people have been waiting for the crisis to end and because all they see is one austerity plan after another, at a time of almost zero growth.
Crucial too because the European election campaign is set to rekindle interest in Europe by a public that has had its fill of widespread poverty, factory closures and pernickety regulations. This is the only way to head off the wave of anti-European feeling that we are warned will break on the floor of the next European Parliament.
2014 will also be crucial because all eyes will be on the next Commission, which, in the light of the latest institutional reform, should take on a more political role and at last
provide answers to the real issues that people face in their daily lives.
To meet these challenges, which are pivotal for the future of the European Union, the European Economic and Social Committee will work harder than ever to play its role as representative of civil society.
With their members and administration, who are all committed to a Europe that is closer to grassroots concerns, they will put forward a genuine European blueprint for society.
Together, they will be able to make something meaningful of the phrase “being European”, breathe new life into the European spirit and give fresh meaning to our values.
2014 will also be crucial because all eyes will be on the next Commission, which, in the light of the latest institutional reform, should take on a more political role and at last provide answers to the real issues that people face in their daily lives.
The last few days there has come an other twinge in the position of Europe by one country liking to have more contact with the other European countries. One of the main points Europeans are looking is that they would love to live in a democratic union where everybody is free to say what they think and to move wherever they want to go at.
Also the Ukrainians love to see the possibility to shape the future of their country unbounded to others but with the possibility to work together with many others.
Interview with Jacek Krawczyk, President of the EESC Employers Group
Jacek Krawczyk, President of the EESC Employers Group was among those calling most loudly for the EESC to send a delegation to Kiev to support the protesters.
Jacek Krawczyk says:
I think that the Committee must stand up for the rights of citizens whenever they are violated, especially when this happens through police brutality. I was pleased to see
the European Parliament’s statement on Ukraine and I would have liked to see a similar resolution adopted by the EESC.
When a country wants to be part of Europe it has to have democratic rules and should allow all its citizens, no matter what race or culture to enjoy their own cultural and religious activities. In every country interested to be part of that European Union or to work with that union these political and social signals are very important for people. Last year we have seen many protesters in different European countries, like Greece and Spain, where misery came over the population and fraudulent actions of some brought the county in ruins.
This time we also have found a country willing to be part of the bigger picture but protesting in Kiev, enduring the bitter, freezing cold because their leaders did not want to follow the majority of the people and used them to fill their pockets. Others in Europe, you would think could not stay at the sideline.
Clearly they gave Europe a sign that they wanted to meet them; So we do have to take their outstretched hand and should react.
Therefore what would would be your message and recommendation to the people protesting on the Maidan in Kiev?
First of all I would like to express my strong support for their demands.
They are entitled to a say in the future of their country and they have a right to express that through peaceful means.
In Ukraine the citizens also could not escape the horrible violence taken the weaker ones.
I also strongly condemn the use of force against such demonstrations and remind the Ukrainian government that any authority that decides to use force illegally against its own citizens loses any legitimate right to govern. Hundreds of thousands of protesters cannot be just ignored and their proposals must constructively be taken into account
in further political decisions.
In December, the Employers Group published a statement concerning the situation in Ukraine. What was your main message?
We strongly condemned the violence used by the authorities to suppress peaceful demonstrations by people expressing their disagreement with the Ukrainian leadership’s decision to turn away from a pro-European path. Members of the Employers Group were also robust in their condemnation of the pressure exerted on Ukraine’s leaders not to sign the association agreement with the EU.
As we underlined in the statement, the Employers Group is convinced that the association agreement would open the way for Ukraine to develop its democracy, good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It would also help to build a strong economy based on a free, transparent and open market with high European standards, which would secure a better life for Ukrainians.
Are you in touch with Ukrainian employers? How do they see the situation
unfolding in the medium and long term?
We are working closely with Ukrainian entrepreneurs to get an understanding of their position on current political developments. Our delegation also took part in the Business
Forum, held one day before the EU-Eastern Partnership Summit. On that day, the clear message from several Ukrainian speakers was that this was a delay, not a final decision by
Ukraine. As one delegate pointed out, Ukraine could hardly be expected to sign such an agreement at the onset of winter, with the unspoken suggestion that Russia might retaliate by shutting off energy supplies, as happened in 2006 and 2009. It is clear that there are some groups, especially in Eastern Ukraine, who are afraid that the agreement with the EU would be detrimental to trade relations with Russia. There are also
business circles in Ukraine that have no interest whatsoever in making its economy more open or transparent.
Zbigniew Brzeziński stated recently in the Financial Times that “the events in Ukraine
are historically irreversible and geopolitically transformatory. Sooner rather than later, Ukraine will be truly a part of democratic Europe”. Would you agree with that?
I really hope he is right. When I look at Ukraine now, I can’t help but draw comparisons with Poland in the 1980s and 1990s. Our example shows clearly how transformation, reform, democracy and a modern economic model can bear fruit. In 1991, when Poland signed the association agreement with the EU, I was secretary of state in the second solidarity government. We all thought that day that Poland would be a member within
five to six years at most. It took twice as long, as transformation and preparation for EU membership were much more difficult and challenging than we had realised at the outset. But it was worth the effort.
According to opinion polls, support in Ukraine for European integration exceeds 50%. This enthusiasm among the Ukrainian public is an opportunity not to be wasted by
the authorities. The EU doesn’t want to force Ukraine into association; this association is not against Russia or any other country.
What we really want is freedom of choice for Ukrainians. You cannot ignore such a strong
- Opinion: Divided Ukraine? ‘Think again’ (edition.cnn.com)
Over our 22 years of Ukrainian independence, fears of language or ethnic persecution have never come true. But they were kept alive by Russian propaganda. We understand that Putin is trying to escalate tension and provoke civil war in Ukraine right now. He can’t afford for a free Ukraine to succeed: His own people might get an idea that it’s possible to overthrow a tyrant and build a prosperous country.
Putin won’t succeed. Ukrainians are wiser than that and won’t kill each other over the nonexistent problem of language. To demonstrate that, last week, people in Lviv (traditionally Ukrainian-speaking) spoke only Russian all day, and in response, those in Donetsk (traditionally Russian-speaking) spoke Ukrainian!
- Invasion of Ukraine isn’t Putin’s only option (kansascity.com)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Ukraine to return to a Feb. 21 agreement between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his opponents just before Yanukovych fled to Russia and his opponents named a new government. Ironically, that agreement received the blessings of the West, but not Russia, at the time. Lavrov said representatives of Russia-friendly Ukrainian regions should be brought into the new government.
“Instead of a promised national unity government, a ‘government of the victors’ has been created,” he said at U.N. meetings in Geneva.
This has been the position of the Kremlin all along, but now it is negotiating from a position of strength.
Russia has taken control of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based. Russian troops controlled all Ukrainian border posts and all military bases on Monday.
Putin also has left open the option of sending troops into eastern and southern Ukraine, where many ethnic Russians live. “We are talking about protection of our citizens and compatriots,” Lavrov said Monday.
This has raised fears in Kiev and the West that Russia will annex these regions as well.
- Obama administration unveils $1-billion loan package for Ukraine (latimes.com)
The Obama administration will ask Congress to approve $1 billion in loan guarantees and other assistance to help stabilize the new, pro-Western government in Ukraine, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Tuesday.
The loans will be part of a larger international aid package coordinated by the U.S. and European allies, and distributed largely through the International Monetary Fund. The money is needed to close a gaping budget hole left when the Ukraine opposition deposed President Viktor Yanukovich and rejected a loan package from Moscow. Experts say the new government needs roughly $20 billion to fill the gap in the current fiscal year.
In a statement released Tuesday, Lew said the U.S. and its partners will work to “provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth, if the new government implements the necessary reforms.” Obama on Monday said a speedy approval of the deal would send a strong message to Russia, which the U.S. has accused of breaching international law by seizing control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in the wake of the coup.
- Military intervention isn’t Putin’s only option as he tries to keep Ukraine in Moscow’s orbit (foxnews.com)
The current instability plays into Moscow’s hand by making it more difficult for the new government to persuade the International Monetary Fund to provide the billions of dollars in loans that Ukraine needs to avoid default. An IMF delegation was to arrive in Kiev on Tuesday.
Putin cannot afford for Russia to cede influence over Ukraine to the West. The country of 46 million people is an important trade partner, holds pipelines that carry Russian natural gas to Europe and is central to his ambitions of restoring Moscow’s influence over much of the former Soviet Union. The Crimean Peninsula is of particular importance, both strategically and sentimentally.
For Russians, Ukraine is part of their history and their faith, and family ties run deep. Ukraine, which became independent with the 1991 Soviet collapse, has always seemed like an artificial state to many Russians, including Putin.
- Russian forces expand control of Crimea (philly.com)
A spokesman for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is berthed in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, denied that a threat had been made, and the Russian Defense Ministry called the accusation “utter nonsense.” But as Russian troops and warships surrounded Ukrainian security installations throughout the autonomous Crimean Peninsula, it was clear that Ukrainian forces believed they faced an imminent threat even though no shot had been fired.
A Ukrainian Defense Ministry official alleged that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander had set a deadline of 5 a.m. Tuesday – 10 p.m. Monday Philadelphia time – for Ukrainian forces to capitulate, according to the Interfax-Ukrainian news agency.
- Russia-Ukraine standoff over Crimea escalates (yakimaherald.com)
Western threats appeared to have made little impact on Russia by Monday night. Speaking in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov justified the Russian troop deployment as necessary to protect Russians living in Crimea “until the normalization of the political situation” in Ukraine, where months of protests led to the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych more than two weeks ago.Russian forces, already in control of much of Crimea, took possession of a ferry terminal in Kerch, in the eastern part of the peninsula just across a strait from Russian territory, according to reports from the area. The terminal serves as a departure point for many ships heading to Russia and could be used to send even more Russian troops into Crimea.
Ukrainian news media reported that a representative of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet also called on members of Ukrainian Aviation Brigade at an air base in Belbek to denounce Ukrainian government authority and swear allegiance to the new Crimean government. By nightfall, the Ukrainian aviators were still on their air base.
- Ukraine Aid Package Unveiled By White House (huffingtonpost.com)
European leaders already are considering sanctions on exports of Russia’s natural gas, uranium and coal industries. U.S. sanctions likely would be similar to Europe’s.
Some Republicans in Congress were considering a possible package of “debilitating economic sanctions” to get Putin’s attention. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said that the U.S. and Europe should act collectively to threaten the Russian stock market, economy and ruble if Russia doesn’t withdraw from Crimea.
“We can’t just keep talking,” Royce said Monday. “We need to do something.”
The European Union issued a Thursday deadline for Putin to pull back his troops from Crimea or also face a rejection of visa liberalization and economic cooperation negotiations that have long been in the works.
- Ukraine naval tension soars (kansascity.com)
A spokesman for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is berthed in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, denied that a threat had been made, and the Russian Defense Ministry called the accusation “utter nonsense.”
But as Russian troops and warships surrounded Ukrainian security installations throughout the autonomous Crimean Peninsula, it was clear that Ukrainian forces believed they faced an imminent threat even though no shot had been fired.
A Ukrainian Defense Ministry official alleged that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander had set a deadline of this morning for Ukrainian forces to capitulate, according to the Interfax-Ukrainian news agency. There were no immediate reports of activity after the 5 a.m. deadline passed.
- Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea reject Russian demands of allegiance – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
In the towns and cities of Crimea, meanwhile, soldiers and civilians alike expressed fears that the confrontation will turn into a shooting war.
Here in Bakhchisaray, the ancient capital of Tatar rulers, not all of the Russian soldiers seemed committed to the threat to storm the Ukrainian military strongholds unless the troops surrendered.
“We don’t need their weapons,” said a young Russian soldier who refused to give his name and rank. “I am not going to fight with my brothers and shoot at them. I have many relatives and friends in Ukraine.
“We are here only to prevent the bases’ weapons from getting into the hands of fascists and extremists,” he said, echoing Moscow’s description of Ukraine’s new leaders and their supporters.
- Keeping Ukraine Together (whispersofsatan.wordpress.com)
But perhaps the West vs. East discourse is over-sentimentalized. I wrote about Ukraine last on January 25th, portraying a very Europe vs. Russia mentality among ordinary Ukrainians. But in my readings and in the rhetoric of the last month, I’ve come to the conclusions it’s not as simple as most media puts it. One article I read brought things to a better light, and I confess I was taken a bit aback at first – it argued the protesters on the streets weren’t there so much for Europe as for independence. According to the author, there “is the desire in Western Ukraine for a free and independent society, and this means, most importantly, a final end to Russian domination.”
That the emphasis of Euromaidan was not on becoming European so much as becoming independent shouldn’t be so startling of a proposition as it was for me. After all, why would Ukraine, a nation with its own history and people, language and tradition, want to one day just become “European”? Who willingly chooses to change not just their culture but their identity and namesake? Ukraine has indeed faced Westernization, but not colonization. Their culture remains free. And what they desire is their own Ukrainian freedom, Ukrainian independence, and Ukrainian liberalism.