Ukraine war: How to stop the war and rebuild the country

Ukraine war: How to stop the war and rebuild the country
Ukraine´s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal

Ukraine´s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal called on Monday the Council of Europe (CoE) to expel Russia from the organisation.

He was addressing an extraordinary session of CoE´s parliamentary assembly via video-link, replacing President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had to cancel his speech to CoE due to unforeseen circumstances. Instead Zelensky is expected to address the US Congress on Wednesday.

“The right to life is one of the key fundamental rights – and today, at the centre of Europe, this right is being violated every minute and every second,” Shmyahal pointed out.

“There must be a tough response. Those who carried out this unprovoked and unjustified aggression cannot remain in this European family - where human life is regarded as the highest value.”

“Ukraine is on fire,” the Prime Minister pointed out. “We must stop the aggression, to prevent nuclear disaster, to stop all of Europe from catching fire.” He reiterated his government’s call to close the sky over Ukraine by creating a no-fly zone and urged an end to the “lies and hatred” being disseminated via Russian propaganda.

In an act of solidarity with Ukraine, the Prime Ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic travelled to the besieged Kyiv on Tuesday as representatives of the European Council to meet President Zelensky and Prime Minister Shmyhal.

While the talks between Ukraine and Russia were reportedly resumed today, communication between the two countries is still hard because of their different political systems, according to Zelensky´s head of office. In the meantime, the war rages on resulting in the destruction of civilian infrastructure, immense suffering for civilians and a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine.

At most, the talks can result in agreements on humanitarian corridors, but to achieve a cease-fire and a dialogue on a political solution, a meeting between Zelensky and Putin is necessary, probably via mediation by countries that have good relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

The EU decided on Tuesday on a fourth set of sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. According to the Commission, these sanctions will further contribute to ramping up economic pressure on the Kremlin and cripple its ability to finance its invasion of Ukraine. They have been coordinated with international partners, notably the United States.

These new and previous sanctions imposed on Russia and oligarchs and business elites linked to the Kremlin consist mainly of freezing their assets in the EU and different bans on travels and investments.

In its statement last week (11 March), the European Council meeting in Versailles wrote that EU is “committed to provide support for the reconstruction of a democratic Ukraine once the Russian onslaught has ceased”. The costs to rebuild destroyed infrastructure and buildings have been estimated to €100 billion and the bill increases with every day the war continues.

Is it legally possible to seize the assets that are subject to sanctions (restricted measures) for the rebuilding of Ukraine?

A Commission spokesperson declined to reply to the question at the daily press conference in Brussels on Monday. “We are in the middle of an atrocious war, with damages and losses in lives accumulating day by day,” he replied. “For the moment we are focussing on supporting Ukraine and its people.”

How the rebuilding will be managed will depend on how and when the war ends, he added. The Commission is currently not able to assess how the rebuilding will be financed and does not have any figures. It hopes that it will have a discussion on the rebuilding of Ukraine very soon, as soon as the war has ended.

Another matter concerns the impact of the sanctions on Russia´s willingness to give up its demand for unconditional surrender by Ukraine and agree to serious talks on an immediate cease-fire which hopefully could lead to a political dialogue on a mutually acceptable political solution.

While the Commission is describing the sanctions as wide-ranging and unprecedented packages of measures, the most important Russian revenue source from its trade with the EU, the export of natural gas, has until now been excluded. In a document (communication) last week, the Commission outlined how the phasing out of EU´s dependence on fossil fuels from Russia “can be done well before 2030”.

But the Commission stopped short of proposing to the EU member states to stop importing natural gas from Russia already now. Member states are not legally obliged to reduce the import. The only concrete measure and date was a legislative proposal by April on minimum gas storage, establishing a 90% filling target by 1 October each year, designating gas storage as critical infrastructure.

Some of the member states are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas.  Russian energy monopoly Gazprom is still supplying Europe with gas through pipelines, including through the territory of Ukraine. The EU imports 90% of its gas consumption, with Russia providing more than 40% of the EU’s total gas consumption. Russia also accounts for 27% of oil imports and 46% of coal imports.

How much has the import of natural gas from Russia been reduced until now?

A Commission spokesperson replied that record levels of natural gas were imported from non-Russian sources in January and February, which resulted in a “significant” reduction in Russia´s share of the import. He admitted that the heating season in Europe is practically over but added that the EU needs to prepare for next winter and fill the gas storages. “We have our eyes on next winter.”

According to the Commission´s so-called REPowerEU plan, the reliance on Russian natural gas can be reduced by two thirds already within one year by the on-going diversification of gas supplies, via higher Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and pipeline imports from non-Russian suppliers, and other measures to enhance the energy systems in the EU.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times


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