Arthur Beesley, The Financial Times, 17.08.2016
Ukraine has urged western leaders to hold the line against Russian aggression in the country, saying there was no case for a weakening of sanctions against the Putin administration.
On a visit to Brussels, Arseny Yatseniuk, Ukraine’s former prime minister, revived demands for Nato allies to provide “defensive weapons” to Kiev, saying Russia alone was to blame for increased violence in Ukraine.
Although Mr Yatseniuk was replaced as premier in April by an associate of Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, his party remains a key part of the coalition government. He told the FT he was representing the Ukrainian government in Brussels, where he met Donald Tusk, European Council president, and Nato chiefs.
The appeal by Mr Yatseniuk came days after Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, claimed his country had foiled a plot by Ukraine’s special forces to enter the annexed Crimean peninsula to carry out “terrorist” acts — a claim that raised tensions between Kiev and Moscow to their highest level for almost a year.
“This is just fake, another Russian fake,” Mr Yatseniuk said.
Mr Tusk, who also spoke with Mr Poroshenko by phone on Wednesday, said Moscow’s version of events was “not credible”.
EU leaders must decide by the end of the year whether to extend sanctions against Russia. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, rallied British support in June to extend the measures for six months, but Hungary, Italy and Greece have suggested that the penalties might be counter-productive.
Referring to pressure to ease sanctions, Mr Yatseniuk said: “This would be the betrayal of the bedrock of the EU and of the bedrock of the free world.”
But the former premier said he accepted that the renewal of sanctions on Russia “would be difficult” for Europe, and suggested the UK vote to leave the EU “could affect” the discussion.
But he insisted there was no choice but to maintain the sanctions as he saw no prospect of Mr Putin executing the so-called Minsk II peace deal of 2015, which was supposed to ease the conflict. “Sanctions cannot be lifted until Russia fully implements Minsk and gets out of Crimea,” Mr Yatseniuk said.
He continued: “There are different voices that started to emerge in Europe: ‘let’s lift sanctions; let’s build a new type of dialogue with Russia, let’s be more co-operative’.
“These are the sounds of weakness. [There is] no doubt that we need to have the dialogue but this dialogue cannot happen under the barrel of Russian-made guns and that’s what Russia offers.”
But Mr Yatseniuk also accepted that diplomatic measures and financial penalties were not sufficient. While he recognised the military training provided by Nato allies and other aid, he said a more comprehensive package was required.
Ukraine first sought weapons from Nato two years ago but members of the alliance are reluctant to deepen military support for Kiev.
“We truly appreciate and we commend the decision of Nato to provide to Ukraine so-called assistance package, but . . . in my strong opinion what is needed for Ukraine is defensive weapons,” Mr Yatseniuk said.
Mr Yatseniuk also criticised Donald Trump, US presidential candidate, whose adviser Paul Manafort has come under scrutiny for his connections to Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian former Ukrainian president. “When Mr Trump a few weeks ago mentioned that he would reconsider the Crimean case . . . he crossed the line,” he said.