The European Union need not rush to judgment on the recent Minsk ceasefire and peace accords and can watch in coming months what happens in eastern Ukraine before making a decision on economic sanctions, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief said Thursday. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Federica Mogherini said the EU focus now and in coming weeks should be on doing all it can to build momentum behind the Minsk agreements and their full implementation.
The European Union need not rush to judgment on the recent Minsk ceasefire and peace accords and can watch in coming months what happens in eastern Ukraine before making a decision on economic sanctions, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief said Thursday.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Federica Mogherini said the EU focus now and in coming weeks should be on doing all it can to build momentum behind the Minsk agreements and their full implementation.
She made it clear that if the situation in eastern Ukraine were to deteriorate, the EU could move rapidly to increase pressure on Russia and pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine. Even if the conflict goes quiet in coming weeks, she says she would not expect any early decision on the bloc’s tough economic sanctions on Russia, which must be either renewed, amended or scrapped in July.
EU leaders are due to discuss Ukraine again when they meet March 18-19. They will also meet in June.
“Obviously we can take decisions any time - for good or for bad. Any time. But the decision on the sanctions that expire in July can be taken later on,” said Ms. Mogherini, who spoke to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov by phone on Thursday.
The former Italian former minister, who took up the role of EU foreign policy chief Nov 1, has come under fire from some over what critics say is a dovish approach to Moscow over Ukraine. Her office’s decision to circulate in January a paper looking at options for improving ties with Russia proved controversial and was soon sidelined by an intensification of violence in eastern Ukraine.
In Brussels, other voices have called for a sharpening of the western response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Moscow has consistently denied western accusations that it is supporting, financing and encouraging the separatists.
European Council President Donald Tusk, the former Polish premier, said last week he was consulting EU leaders on “next steps” in light of hundreds of violations of the Minsk deal, which was signed Feb. 12.
Ms. Mogherini said Thursday she is under no illusions about Russian President Vladimir Putin or the ceasefire. She said so far the results of Minsk had been neither success nor failure and that the outcome was “very much gray.”
“I’m afraid it will stay in this way for quite some time,” she said.
But she insists that rather than react to decisions taken in Moscow and Kiev, the EU needs to get involved however it can - whether supporting the ceasefire monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine, brokering gas and trade disputes between Kiev and Moscow or overseeing free and fair local elections in the east - to make Minsk work.
“We have to work for having the process bring results because this is not automatic and we know that very well,” she said.
Of Mr. Putin, she said she could not tell whether he was intent on conflict. However she said the only option was to continue diplomatic efforts aimed at a political solution in Ukraine and seek to resume what was once a fruitful search for cooperation on the EU’s eastern borders.
“Now…is Putin credible for opening a constructive and cooperative dialogue with the European Union?…Or is Putin back to a Cold War way of thinking?” she said. “I don’t have the answer to this question….My answer is on my side and I say Europe is and will stay convinced that with neighbors - even with difficult neighbors — we need to cooperate.”
One area of potential cooperation is revival of talks between the EU, Ukraine and Russia on a trade and political agreement Kiev signed last June with Brussels.
Russia has fiercely opposed the agreement and it was former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the deal that kicked off the Maidan protests that eventually toppled his government. The EU has already held three-way talks on the deal’s implementation. The Minsk agreements said they would resume.
Ms. Mogherini said under no circumstances would the EU allow Russia to dictate changes to the agreement, which has already been ratified by half the bloc’s parliaments. But she did not rule out real changes to the agreement if Ukraine asked for them.