Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos’ statements to Greek correspondents following today’s emergency session of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (Brussels, 3 March 2014)
E. VENIZELOS: One of the biggest international political crises in
recent decades is under way. The European policy must send and is
sending clear messages based on international legality, on the need to
respect territorial integrity and the existing borders, on the need to
respect sovereignty, on the need to respect the rules of international
law regarding dialogue and the avoidance of the use of violence or the
threat of violence.
These are the messages that were sent today by the Foreign Affairs Council, under the Presidency of Lady Ashton. Naturally, these messages are directed to all the involved parties, including Russia and the Ukrainian government, to which I reiterated the particular importance of the inclusive nature of the transitional governance in Ukraine, with the participation of all the social, political and ethnic stakeholders of all the country’s regions.
From this perspective, it is of very great importance for there to be immediate reforms in the name of democracy, of the rule of law, and of respect for human rights. The citizens throughout the country, including in eastern Ukraine, must feel that there is a status of security and equal rights of participation.
I had the opportunity to convey to today’s Council a letter I received during my visit to Kiev yesterday from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, who states in the letter the new Ukrainian government’s readiness to continue the talks for the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union. And this has been included in the Conclusions of today’s Council, as the European Union states that it is continuing in this direction.
I also had the opportunity, before the start of today’s Council, to talk to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was in Geneva, because Greece – as a country, on the national level, and as the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union – maintains the potential for contacts,, and has relations of credibility and trust, with all the involved parties. And thus Greece is able, to the extent possible, to contribute to the defusing of the crisis, to de-escalation, to the prevailing of reason and international law.
From this perspective, we are doing everything possible to protect peace and stability in the region, to guarantee the interests of the Greek Ukrainian community – particularly in the region of Mariupol and the other regions where there are Greek communities – and, mainly, while participating in a productive, visionary and strategic manner in the European and international power relations in the midst of an ongoing international crisis, to strengthen our national position and certainly to protect the national interests.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Greece has understood this. There are those who really cannot perceive the danger Greece can be exposed to should it not bear in mind the European and international power relations; should it move amateurishly or carelessly, as they propose.
I say to them once again that the manner in which they deal with domestic politics cannot extend to the European or international level. Fortunately, the thoughtlessness, demagoguery and irresponsibility of our domestic politics cannot be carried over onto the international level. If they are carried over, Greece will pay a very high cost, and I hope that the Greek people realize this and keep it from happening.
As you heard in the statement, the conclusions are directed at both Russia and the Ukrainian government. They also include a more coordinated EU intervention regarding the economic crisis in Ukraine, centered, of course, on the IMF, which is asked in the conclusions to bear in mind the necessary reforms not just on the economic level, but also on the level of democracy and rule of law.
JOURNALIST: What direction are you moving in? In the direction of sanctions, in the direction of political pressure? Of economic sanctions?
E. VENIZELOS: There is political pressure, and there is reference to measures, one of which is, for example, the interruption of the talks with Russia on the liberalization of visas, or on the modernization agreement, if steps are not taken to de-escalate the crisis. Naturally, the situation in Crimea continued to evolve while the Foreign Affairs Council met from this morning until now, in Brussels.
So new circumstances are taking shape; circumstances that must be evaluated, and that is why we said that the Foreign Affairs Council must remain in ongoing contact, while the matter of an emergency session of the European Council, on the Ukraine issue, remained open.
E. VENIZELOS: We haven’t said what day, because we have to take various things into account – there are other obligations, but Mr. Van Rompuy will set the date.
JOURNALIST: Is the possibility of Mr. Putin’s coming to the Summit Meeting, if only unofficially, being discussed?
E. VENIZELOS: It has been proposed that the Ukrainian Prime Minister attend, but this has not been accepted yet either, because it isn’t within the competency of the Foreign Affairs Council; it is up to Mr. Van Rompuy and the heads of state and government themselves. But there was no discussion today of Mr. Putin’s participating. Besides, what the EU has to do is to ensure its capability of being a main factor in the whole process. One characteristic of the text is that, despite its sending tough messages, it insists on the need to keep the channels of communication open, and I imagine that this is something that will work and will be appreciated by all the sides.
As for the G8 Summit, this concerns the members of the G8. There are a number of European members, and a reference has been included in the conclusions to the fact that the preparations for the G8 meeting in Sochi have been postponed due to the crisis. But this is something that is mentioned in the conclusions. It is not a decision of the Council, because it concerns the G8.
JOURNALIST: What is the thinking for Europe?
E. VENIZELOS: As I have already said, Europe condemns any violation of international law. It is asking that the tensions be de-escalated. It is asking that the use of violence or the threat of the use of violence be avoided. It is asking that Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence and existing borders be respected. It is asking for an OSCE fact-finding mission, leaving open the potential – not expressly in the text, but this was the spirit of the discussions – for the creation of an international contact group on Ukraine, with the participation of all the involved parties, thus including Russia.
But this is something that we will have to see, after the OSCE process has first been tried. Because the OSCE decides by rule of unanimity, we will have to see if it decides something, because the Russian Federation also participates in the OSCE.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say that Russia, as we were informed by our colleague from Luxembourg – which holds the Presidency of the UN Security Council this month, as a non-permanent European member – the Russian Federation asked that the Security Council convene so that it could be briefed on the developments, on a Russian initiative. So we have a lot of developments that we have to evaluate.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, can you give us an assessment of the situation?
E. VENIZELOS: In Crimea, a completely different situation has taken shape. There is now a different balance of military power, because there is a strong Russian military presence. Right now, Russia has military control of the peninsula, and we have to see how that develops in the coming hours.
Of course, we are dealing in tandem with the crisis in Crimea, with the situation in Ukraine and in eastern Ukraine in particular, with the need for international law to be in force, particularly with regard to the aspects of international law that I mentioned. The need for the transitional situation in Ukraine to function according to the principle of inclusiveness, and we need to see this in the overturning of measures like the recent law on the use of regional and minority languages.
We are also dealing with the economic crisis and the risk of the economy’s collapse, so there is a need for immediate assistance measures. And at the same time we are dealing with the classic process of the Eastern Neighbourhood and enlargement, which means the signing of the Association Agreement, which is coming back to the table, with Ukraine’s change of stance, because the European stance was firm and a given in any case.
This is the state of affairs. The situation is very difficult, because Ukraine has a strategic position on the European continent, because Ukraine neighbours not only on Russia, but also on many EU member states, because it is a country with 50 million residents, because it is an energy hub, because it has an ethnic and linguistic makeup that we have to take very seriously into account, and because we haven’t faced this serious a crisis in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
JOURNALIST: You asked Olli Rehn to look at the economic aspect of the issue. Suddenly Olli Rehn is involved in foreign policy.
E. VENIZELOS: He is not involved in foreign policy. He is involved in enlargement policy and in international development assistance policy. If a conference is held on Ukraine, as I have proposed, the European Union will obviously participate. It may be a conference of supporters in general.
Some may participate as donors, others with development assistance, others with know-how. And this doesn’t apply to just states. It applies to international organizations. The IMF, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will participate, as will the European Commission, and possibly the World Bank.
So we are talking about a variety of agencies that have to be mobilized. But because the immediate needs here are financial needs – someone has to provide the money to keep he system from collapsing – we have to look at what Russia’s role is. While on the one hand Russia has a very important role in a global plan for supporting Ukraine’s economy, on the other hand, we have tension in the relations between Russia and Ukraine due to the situation that has taken shape in on the Crimean peninsula. So we have to bear in mind all of these parameters that conflict with one another.
Thank you very much.