SP Senator Kox to visit Ukraine as part of Council of Europe delegation

7 March 2014

SP Senator Kox to visit Ukraine as part of Council of Europe delegation

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is to send its president with the chairpersons of its five political groupings to Ukraine as soon as possible. SP Senator Kox will participate as chair of the left group. As well as Kiev, the delegation will visit Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Tiny KoxToday the organisation, to which all European countries belong, discussed the political crisis in Ukraine, a debate which was held on the initiative of Senator Kox. At the end of the debate, which took place in Paris, he concluded that nobody was formally casting doubt on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. 'That’s important because we in Europe can only work together if we refrain from drawing new borders,’ said Kox. ’That would open a Pandora’s box, and it is open to question who would ever be able to close it.’ Kox confirmed that with the exception of the Russian delegation everyone condemned the Russian military interference in Crimea.’

Besides Russia other powers must ensure that they become part of the solution rather than continuing to be part of the problem. In Kox’s opinion it is unwise of the European Union to wish to allow the new government in Ukraine to sign an association agreement with the EU prior to the coming presidential election. ‘It’s the citizens of Ukraine who should decide on this,’ Senator Kox insisted, ‘not a temporary government which came to power following a revolt.’

Below is the complete text of Kox’s contribution to today’s debate.

First I want to thank the standing committee for asking me to deliver an introduction to this debate on the political crisis in Ukraine. Secondly, I am grateful that the Bureau yesterday allowed the Presidential Committee to visit Ukraine a.s.a.p. for a fact finding mission. The results of this debate surely will be most useful for the PC.

When discussing the political crisis in Ukraine in this Standing Committee, we should be humble.

First and foremost, it is the Ukrainian citizens and their institutions who are entitled to take decisions. It is their country, and we all should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

When discussing the political crisis in and around Ukraine, we also should bear in mind that Ukraine has become part of a geopolitical confrontation.

And we should realise we can only be a small part of a sustainable solution for the political crisis in and around Ukraine. While we are talking here, international diplomacy is working hard to search for a solution, in order to avoid this crisis exploding.

At the same time we should take our responsibility and not be afraid to do so. We are the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Here, in this Assembly, where we so often use the phrase that we are here to protect democracy, the rule of law and human rights, now it is the moment to show that indeed we are obliged to these core values of the Council of Europe. They are all at stake in Ukraine now.

We, parliamentarians, are there to represent our voters and to hold our governments accountable. But we also have to play our own diplomatic role when circumstances ask us to do so. Parliamentary diplomacy is, in the words of our former president Van der Linden, 'complimentary, enriching and stimulating to traditional forms of diplomacy.'

One of the advantages of parliamentary diplomacy is that we can debate difficult matters more openly than traditional diplomats.

Let me pose some frank questions to us all.

Is there anybody who likes this crisis? In my humble opinion, there are at least 25 million people who do not like it at all. These are the citizens of Ukraine. Citizens that have already suffered a lot after Ukraine became, in 1991, an independent country, and, later on, a member state of our Council of Europe.

The convention Ukraine signed promised these citizens that they would live in a state which obliged itself to respect democracy, rule of law and human rights. Reality showed to be somewhat different. In the nineties the citizens of Ukraine suffered more than many other new democracies from the economic slowdown, when it lost over 60 percent of its GDP. Then, and afterwards, the citizens also suffered from a tremendously high level of corruption and the domination of the development of the country by powerful oligarchs, who used and abused democratic institutions to their own benefits.

In 2004, many citizens revolted after the rigged presidential elections. But the so called Orange Revolution did not end troubles in Ukraine. The country remained divided on many issues and corruption did not end. According to international observers, Ukraine is amongst the most corrupt countries on earth. And as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe told us time and again: continuation of corruption creates new revolts. We saw it happen in Ukraine.

When the European Union was competing with the Russian Federation to get Ukraine into its economic interest sphere, many Ukrainian citizens felt lost. Why is it apparently not possible for Ukraine to have strong economic relations with both EU and Russia?

President Yanukovych' decision not yet to sign an association agreement with the European Union, was the signal for yet another revolt. Euromaidan became a well- known place in the whole of Europe, a place where citizens revolted against their president and government. It also became a place where politicians from abroad found it useful to show their faces. Let me pose another question to us all: was it after all, wise that so many foreign politicians showed up in Ukraine and chose sides?

I do not want to take sides. Revolution in a Council of Europe member state which is obliged to respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights, is difficult to accept. To revolt against dictatorship is something entirely different than to revolt against those who were elected by the people. But at the same time, those who have been elected do not get a title to do whatever they want. Democracy, rule of law and human rights are not to be separated. A government that refuses to listen to genuine demands and needs of its citizens makes itself irrelevant and provokes resistance.

Let me come to an important moment in the recent history of Ukraine: 21 February 2014. Then, amidst all turmoil and confrontation, all parties represented in the Ukrainian parliament signed an agreement with the elected president to find a way out of the crisis. All sides had to compromise and they did - we should compliment them all for being so brave. The agreement was, almost uniquely, co-signed by three ministers of foreign affairs of EU countries. And, also almost uniquely, it was accepted as a reasonable way out of the crisis by the governments of the Russian Federation and the United States. It was applauded by the various organs of the Council of Europe as well. After all that went wrong, finally it looked as there was light at the end of the tunnel. My question: is it possible to put that agreement back on the table in Ukraine?

One day after the agreement was signed, the agreement was in scrambles, the president fled from his capital, the parliament decided that the president was no longer able to fulfil his duties, therefore he was replaced by the Speaker of Parliament as acting interim president. A government of national unity, as agreed on February 21, was not formed, and the former parliamentary opposition made a new government, also thanks to the evaporation of the Party of the Regions. Let me pose another question: why did the EU not stick to the execution of the agreement which was brokered by itself?

In parts of Ukraine, the Party of the Regions was banned, and that also happened in some regions to the Communist Party of Ukraine. A law on Russian language was annulled and citizens in parts of Ukraine felt threatened by the fact that the new government also invited parties to participate which were considered to be far right. Do we agree that any government in Ukraine has to respect the right of citizens to get themselves organised in political parties? And do we agree that any government in Ukraine is bound to the conventions on minorities it signed as a member of the Council of Europe?

The fear in parts of Ukraine that the new government might not respect human rights was used as an argument by the Russian Federation to use its military presence in Crimea to protect the Russian speaking citizens in that part of Ukraine. This intervention was broadly considered to be an illegal foreign intervention in an independent member State of the Council of Europe. The Russian government denies this but now faces international sanctions for its behaviour. Yesterday the Parliament of the autonomous Republic of Crimea decided to investigate the possibility to accede to the Russian Federation, a decision that was heavily criticised by the government of Ukraine and the international community. Let me ask our Russian colleagues: is it still true, as president Putin said, that Russia wants to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and develop the country on the basis of the 21/2 agreement? Or do we open once again Pandora's box? And who is then later going to close it?

What could we do now?

1 We could confirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. To respect borders, however weird their history might be, is the basis of living together in this continent.
2 We could ask all Ukrainian parties involved to sort out whether the 21/2 agreement can still be the basis of a sustainable way out of the crisis
3 We could ask all foreign powers to leave decisions on the future of Ukraine to the citizens of Ukraine. We could demand that foreign powers become part of the solution instead of staying part of the problem.

This would mean that all Russian military have to return to their barracks, in respect of the agreement signed between Ukraine and Russia. And this would mean that Russia makes clear that any decision on the future of Ukraine is the sovereign right of the citizens of Ukraine.

This also would mean that this is not the moment to discuss the possibility of Ukraine being a proper place for a US rocket shield or to organise a NATO meeting in Ukraine, as was proposed by the new PM.

And this surely would mean that the EU should be more patient in reaching some association agreement with Ukraine and not try to have the new government sign the association treaty before the elections, as was proposed yesterday by EU president van Rompuy.

Let us give the Ukrainians the possibility to do first things first: restore order, by respecting the rule of law, and restore trust, by organising free and fair elections, under our observation.

4 we could propose to refrain from taking too hastily decisions on prosecution of politicians, sanctions against individuals and other ways to put the blame on one each other. When most of us agreed that it was not acceptable to put former PM Mrs Timoshenko in prison, it does not make sense to hunt for Mr Yanukovych in order to get him behind bars.

We could propose to be more careful when decisions on sanctions by the EU against people who were put on the list by the new Ukrainian prosecutor general, who was heavily involved in the confrontation with the former government, and is also not very convincing.

5 we could emphasize the need to use all the expertise of the organs of the Council of Europe to bring Ukrainian legislation in line with Council of Europe Standards: the constitution, the electoral laws, the penal Code, the independency of the judiciary. And to investigate who are responsible for the violence which cost so many Ukrainian lives

I am looking forward to all your interventions and thanks again for allowing me to open this debate.

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