Kox: Major concerns surround Ukraine

25 March 2014

Kox: Major concerns surround Ukraine

After the bloody February revolution in Kiev and the brutal annexation of Crimea by Russia, the situation in Ukraine remains extremely unstable. The new government has little authority, the country continues to be divided and attempts by Russia, the United States and the European Union to increase their influence there are only making the problems worse. Support for a thoroughgoing democratic, economic and social reform of the almost bankrupt country ought to be the priority. That goes also for continuing to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. If that doesn’t happen, the consequences will be unforeseeable and perilous. These were the observations of SP Senator Tiny Kox, who is in Ukraine as a representative of the Council of Europe.

‘After talks with the acting president, the Minister of Home Affairs, the new governors of Donetsk and L’viv, every political party and a wide range of social organisations, I have ascertained that there are enormous fears that things are going to get further out of hand,’ warned Senator Kox. ‘A lot of the people I spoke to are afraid of fresh Russian interventions. In the country’s east there is very little confidence in the new government. And in the west, for example in L’viv, what I heard was incomprehension of what’s happening in the east. Following the removal of President Yanukovych in February, a political vacuum exists in the east of Ukraine, where he had his power base. For this reason neighbouring Russia has a certain appeal, as wages and pensions are higher there and the government appears stronger.

‘Also, mostly in east Ukraine there are fears of the direction the new government in Kiev is opting for, in which the extreme right is playing a significant role. There is a threat of enormous spending cuts, while so many people are already in poverty and lack any prospects of improvement. At the same time corruption is rife, the economy is in ruins, social relations are unjust and relations between the Russian and Ukrainian communities are here and there tense. In Kiev and the west there are demonstrations against Russian aggression, while in Donetsk, on the other hand, I heard demonstrators chanting ‘Russia, Putin!’’

Kox hopes that Ukraine will quickly receive all necessary support to restore the domestic order through free and fair presidential elections in May and parliamentary elections in the autumn. In addition a new constitution must be adopted, one which does justice to people’s wish for more influence and decentralisation of power. Other priorities are the fight against rampant corruption and for an independent judiciary. ‘The better Ukraine functions as a society, the more difficult it will become for the country to be used as a geopolitical football,’ he says. ‘But to make this clear in a country in which mega-rich oligarchs pull the strings everywhere and politicians put their personal interests before the public interest is unimaginably difficult, certainly if you take account of the fact that Ukraine has existed as an independent country for a mere twenty-three years and has to date never been properly unified.’

What’s needed is for the international community to condemn unequivocally the illegal annexation of the Crimea by Russia and take appropriate measures to call President Putin to order, Kox argues. ‘It’s extremely dangerous when powerful countries allow themselves to alter internationally recognised borders,’ he says. ‘If we permit that, it will be the thin end of the wedge.

At the same time the European Union and the United States should reconsider their attempts to take Ukraine into their economic or military sphere of influence, as Kox asserts. ‘All the fuss about NATO membership must be dropped, just as the President now acknowledges. And the conclusion of an economic Association Agreement by the EU should also be looked at closely. Russia sees both matters as parts of an encirclement.’

Kox adds that ‘it’s good that everything is being done to reduce tensions and bring about an agreement. It’s involved a deal of back and forth from a lot of people. When I arrived on Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was in Kiev and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in Donetsk. During our visit we also met with representatives of the UN and of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the OSCE – of which both Russia and the US are members. The Council of Europe, in which all European countries, including Ukraine and Russia, are represented, can give expert assistance about the reform of the legal system and making democratic elections possible. Effective cooperation between international organisations can perhaps open spaces which are not yet available.’

Senator Kox is visiting Ukraine in his capacity as president of the Left Group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, accompanied by fellow group presidents and the president of the assembly. At the beginning of April representative of the parliaments of the forty-seven Council of Europe member states will debate what should be done about Ukraine, which is itself one of those member states. In addition the question will be on the agenda of what measures should be taken against the Russian Parliament in response to its support for the illegal annexation of the Crimea. ‘That’s difficult to determine,’ says Kox. ‘Violating international law is not open to discussion. Excluding the Russian Parliament from participation in the Council of Europe’s work offers, however, very few prospects, certainly when it comes to the necessary parliamentary diplomacy. These are difficult debates, that’s for sure!’

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