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    Ukraine and the European Union

    The current crisis power in Kiev that caused demands by many regions for autonomy and special statuses underlines that Ukraine cannot be regarded a reliable partner for the European Union and its ambition of becoming a member state are unrealistic at least in the nearest future. This is the main conclusion of the European Academy, a leading French NGO, which says the bitter conflict in Donbass and numerous internal problems undermine Ukraine’s aspirations to forge closer ties with the EU.

    Under the title ‘Crisis of power in Ukraine: Why regions seek autonomy’, the Academy convened a special event in Brussels on 3 June as part of efforts to address its crisis of power and find a lasting solution to a war, now into its second year. French MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, founder and president of the European Academy, told the briefing with Brussels-based journalists that  the “current composition in Ukraine does not work any more”.

    Ukrainian regions other than Donbass in the east, such as Odessa in the south, Zaporozhye in central Ukraine are also pressing for special status  not least because they are disillusioned with the unfair distribution of revenue raised through taxes.  It is for this reason, he said, that some Ukrainian regions had refused to provide military or logistical support for Kiev in its ongoing war with Donbass in the east of the country.  “The conclusion is that Ukraine cannot, at present or in the immediate future, be considered a reliable partner for the EU or an appropriate candidate for future EU accession,” said Schaffhauser, adding: “It has to do an awful lot more in order to enhance its European credentials.” Ukraine, he argued, has to resolve “huge” internal problems, establish genuine and lasting peace in Donbass and the rest of Ukraine society, solve all ethnic and inter-regional disputes and introduce “desperately needed” constitutional reforms.

    “There are minorities in Ukraine, not just Russian speaking, that do not wish to be governed from Kiev and the Government there must respect this along with their right to special status, including autonomy,” he said.  Schaffhauser also referred to the history of Ukraine which was tailored during Soviet time and before it out of different Russian and other regions which previously belonged to Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus inherited very complicated ethnic, cultural and religious problems. These problems became actual during the time of independence after the demise of the Soviet Union.

    According to Schaffhauser, most of those problems unresolved up to now. Schaffhauser believes that the Ukrainian government has no intentions to observe Minsk-2 agreements, though he still considers them a real chance for a long lasting peace in Ukraine if they be fully implemented.

    With Eastern Ukraine still in turmoil, the Brussels briefing was an opportunity, especially for representatives of the Ukraine media and other interested parties, to interact with a panel of international independent observers.

    They included lawyer and former Bulgarian MP Pavel Chernev who highlighted the “desperate plight” of Bulgarians in Ukraine, especially in Bessarabia, the second biggest minority group in the country.

    Chernev, who served as an election observer for the 2014 referendum in Crimea, cited one of the first laws enacted by the current Kiev government last year which had removed the Bulgarian language from all official documents. “This,” he noted, “shows how this administration in Kiev chooses to operate. I am personally very concerned about the rights of Bulgarians in particular in Bessarabia but the government appears to want to deny minorities their rights and shut out all opposition as it was during Soviet time.”

    Ukrainian public activist Oleksii Tsvetkov, leader of the public movement ‘Odessa in favour of Porto-Franko’ told the audience how Ukrainian authorities persecute members of this organization which claims more economic rights for this reach region. Recently they have informed the UN about illegal actions from the part of police forces of Ukraine who had banned their public events and press conferences. Tsvetkov also informed about several arrests of members of this movement.  While referring to a question from the audience about the reasons behind Kiev’s refusal to accept the idea of federalization of the country, he simply said that even open mentioning of the word “federalization” could cause a danger to one’s personal security in Ukraine.

    French writer Alexander Del Valle believes that the source of the current conflict is “Western interference in Ukrainian affairs”. According to his words: “America had invested more than $5 billion into different “colored revolutions”, which resulted in huge civilian losses in Ukraine.”  Another panelist, Italian economist and political scientist Andrea Villotti addressed the dire state of the economy in Ukraine and called  for a “better balanced” tax policy in Ukraine. He argued that the ongoing economic crisis in Europe had underlined how regional autonomy can potentially improve the economic lives of citizens.  He believes that in this respect, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics could benefit from experience gained in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano in Italy (South Tyrol) in re-developing their economy.

    Italian analyst and political scientist Alessandro Musolino pointed out that Ukraine had again recently voiced interest in EU membership but cautioned: “I would argue that the EU currently can currently have no interest in allowing in a country like Ukraine. Applying for EU membership is not like applying for membership of a golf club.

    “For EU membership it is necessary to meet strict criteria and rules, such as a working government and respecting and recognising the rights all minority groups, including local powers. Ukraine desperately needs institutional reform but the Kiev government shows no interest in implementing this.”

    Addressing autonomy issues and the rights of minorities would solve 80 per cent of problems in Ukraine, believes Musolino. Despite his criticisms, he emphasized that “we are here to help Ukraine and find a lasting solution to the conflict”.  The Strasbourg-based European Academy was founded in Rome in 1995 by personalities from various countries in Western and Central Europe.The Brussels meeting is the first in a series of international events it is hosting under the banner ‘Ukraine. Update’.

    Ukraine has been engulfed in internal conflict since last April, after Kiev’s army began a crackdown operation in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk after they refused to recognize Kiev’s coup-imposed government.  Even if the bloodshed stops and the guns fall silent, the future status of the rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk remains unclear. A February agreement signed in Minsk by Ukraine, Russia, pro-Russian separatists, France and Germany called for a truce. That seemed to calm tensions but it did not stop violence along Ukraine’s front lines with the breakaway separatists in the east. Under the terms of the Minsk truce, Ukraine would grant wider self-rule to Donetsk and Luhansk. But the separatists have been angered by the government decision to scrap the special status of Donetsk and Luhansk and Kiev remains adamant there is no new deal on autonomy for the rebel areas, only decentralisation. Latest statistics make shocking reading – 5.2 million people estimated to be living in conflict areas, 978,482 internally displaced people within Ukraine, including 119,832 children while 600,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, of whom more than 400,000 have gone to Russia.

    By Martin Banks