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Ukraine: Crisis Overshadows EU-Russia Summit

  • Ahto Lobjakas

The twice-yearly EU-Russia summit today in the Dutch city of The Hague was predictably overshadowed by the aftermath of the 21 November presidential election in Ukraine. EU leaders reiterated their position that they do not accept the result of the elections. Jan-Peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister who headed the EU side, said the polls had not been "free and fair." Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, said the elections had taken place in accordance with Ukrainian law and urged other governments not to interfere. He said Ukrainian courts must settle any remaining disputes.

Brussels, 25 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- At the postsummit press conference, EU and Russian leaders offered conflicting interpretations of the legitimacy of the Ukrainian election.

The Dutch prime minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, admitted as much at the outset, saying both sides only agree that any solution must come about by peaceful means.

"The approach to [solving the Ukraine crisis] differs between Russia and the European Union, but we do agree that a peaceful approach to the setting up of a legitimate government in Ukraine is essential," Balkenende said.
"I am deeply convinced that we have no moral right to push a large European country to any mass disorders. We should not put into international practice a way of resolving such disputes by street unrest. We should teach ourselves and others that such disputes should be resolved in a constitutional way." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin


Balkenende said the elections had not been "free and fair,” and that the EU will not accept the decision of the Ukrainian election commission to award them to the incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

"The [Ukrainian] elections did not meet international standards and that is why the European Union is unable to accept its results and we have done this on the basis of OSCE findings," Balkenende said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasised that the election had taken place in accordance with Ukrainian law. He also said representatives of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko have signed documents approving the final count of votes -- a claim that many observers dispute.

"The election law in Ukraine was adopted with the direct participation of the Ukrainian opposition. Moreover, the Ukrainian opposition was probably the main author of the Ukrainian election law. Secondly, during the final count of votes, representatives from the opposition headquarters, representatives from Mr. Yushchenko's headquarters, signed all the documents which allowed the Ukrainian Central Election Commission to make the conclusion about the victory of Mr. Yanukovych," Putin said.

Putin offered a veiled repetition of the claim made by Russian authorities earlier in the week that by supporting the opposition in contesting the results the European Union is in fact inciting disorder in Ukraine.

"I am deeply convinced that we have no moral right to push a large European country to any mass disorders. We should not put into international practice a way of resolving such disputes by street unrest. We should teach ourselves and others that such disputes should be resolved in a constitutional way," Putin said.

Putin condemned what he termed "intervention” in Ukrainian affairs by "any government,” saying the result of the elections does not require formal recognition from any outside power.

EU politicians have in the past few days accused Russia of having interfered in the election campaign on behalf of Prime Minister Yanukovych.

Balkenende flatly contradicted Putin, denying the EU is interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs. He said outgoing President Leonid Kuchma had agreed to allow international observers to monitor the elections, and reacting to their concerns simply amounts to ensuring that the "proper rules of democracy” are followed.

Putin appeared to accept that the result of the election could still change. He said all disputes should be resolved by Ukrainian courts under existing law.

"I believe, and I think our colleagues are of the same opinion, that all issues concerning the election situation in Ukraine should be resolved in accordance with the existing constitution, in a legal way. And we know what the legal way is -- all claims should be sent to the court," Putin said.

Yushchenko has asked the Ukrainian Supreme Court to intervene.

For their part, EU leaders appear unwilling to completely foreclose their options. Talk of concrete sanctions is avoided, although the new president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, yesterday said there could be "consequences” in Ukraine’s entitlements under the bloc’s neighbourhood program.

Balkenende otoday said the "Ukrainian people” must ultimately resolve the dispute.

"The point here is the future of Ukraine and this future must remain in the hands of Ukrainians themselves. It is not for the European Union to choose the leaders of Ukraine. It is for the people of Ukraine to do that themselves," Balkenende said.

Balkenende said an EU envoy is in Ukraine to discuss the matter with both camps.
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