NATO Allies urged to stay firm on Russia, support Ukraine

Kyiv, 17 June – Despite a formal ceasefire, fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk is intensifying and Ukrainian soldiers are killed almost daily. As Moscow continues to fuel the conflict, and ignore its most basic obligations under the Minsk agreements, Kyiv urged its Western partners to understand that organising elections in line with international standards in the Donbass would be impossible in the current circumstances. Instead Western governments should increase pressure on Russia to withdraw all its forces and allow Ukraine to re-establish control over their common border, Ukrainian officials pleaded at a NATO Parliamentary Assembly high-level seminar held in Kyiv on 14-16 June.

Ukrainian officials rejected Russia’s portrayal of the conflict as opposing Kyiv and what Moscow labels a Russian minority in the Donbass region, highlighting instead that so-called separatists are led by regular Russian army officers fully integrated in the Russian chain of command. The seminar’s keynote speaker Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament, described the situation in Eastern Ukraine as little more than a hybrid peace and warned NATO legislators that the country will continue to require international support, urging them to avoid the pitfalls of “Ukraine fatigue”.

Days before the EU is due to decide on the extension of sanctions against Russia, Ukrainian officials and independent experts speaking at the seminar urged Allied lawmakers to maintain a united front. Lifting the sanctions would be seen by an “armed and very dangerous” Vladimir Putin – in the words of prominent Russian-Ukrainian journalist Yevgeny Kyseliov – as an invitation to intensify his aggressive policies. Olena Zerkal, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged Allied governments not to trade Western values for “apples and prosciutto”, while Edward Lucas, Senior Vice President at the Center for European Policy Analysis, noted that “the price of our appeasement of Russia is being paid by Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine”. Iceland’s former Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson suggested possibly expanding sanctions further by expelling Russia from the Swift bank transfer system. Refat Chubarov, Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, urged the international community to maintain sanctions until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is fully restored, noting that distinctions between Donbass and Crimea were unacceptable. 

Ukrainian officials stressed their government’s firm commitment to implementing fundamental institutional and defense reforms despite the constraints of simultaneously fighting a war. The country has made progress on many fronts – including reorienting its trade toward western markets – but much remains to be done, and resistance to change remains strong. Mustafa-Masi Nayyem, Chairman of the Committee on EU integration of the Verkhovna Rada, suggested that the country is caught between those  lacking the will to reform the system and those bereft of the experience and leverage to do so.

The fight against deeply entrenched corruption lies at the center of the effort to overhaul the institutional life of the country. Ukraine has created an autonomous investigative bureau to take on corruption and taken a number of measures to ensure that it can operate without political interference. However, civil society representatives warned that the old system of corruption is fighting back, and appealed for ongoing international support. Canadian Senator Raynell Andreychuk, one of the co-chairs of the Assembly’s bilateral forum with Ukraine, the Ukraine-NATO Interparliamentary Council (UNIC), called on her Western colleagues not to lose patience with Ukraine’s reform process, while at the same time urging her Ukrainian counterparts not to give their supporters cause to doubt their commitment to reforms.

The coming Summit of NATO Heads of state and government in Warsaw was due to include a special meeting of the NATO Ukraine Commission and endorse a comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine. Verkhovna Rada Chairman Andriy Parubiy noted that Ukraine’s priority in relations with NATO was to deepen cooperation in order to prepare Ukraine for eventual membership, adding that no one could dictate Ukraine’s path.

The joint meeting, entitled “Ukraine’s Transformation In A Troubled Regional Context”, was organised in co‑operation with the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Ukraine, and it included the 92nd Rose-Roth seminar, a meeting of UNIC and of two NATO PA Sub-Committees, on NATO Partnerships and on Transition and Development. The event brought together over 160 participants, including almost 80 members of parliament from 25 NATO member states and partner countries.