Dutch PM Imposes Restrictions On EU-Ukraine Relationship; Savchenko Confirms Meeting With Zakharchenko & Plotnitsky

December 12, 2016
Nadiya Savchenko speaking on December 12, 2016. Screenshot from 112 video.

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Dutch PM Imposes Restrictions On EU-Ukraine Relationship; Savchenko Confirms Meeting With Zakharchenko & Plotnitsky

Reuters reports that the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, will call for European Union leaders to rule out significant elements of further integration between the EU and Ukraine.

According to the report, Dutch diplomats have drawn up a document for EU leaders to endorse, specifying that the EU will not provide any further assistance to Ukraine than that already established in the Association Agreement, signed in 2014.

A draft document prepared by the Dutch for EU leaders to endorse says the Ukraine association agreement “does not contain an obligation for the Union or its member states to provide collective security guarantees or other military aid or assistance to Ukraine.”

It says Ukrainian nationals are not granted “the right to reside and work freely” in the EU. It adds the agreement “does not require additional financial support” by the EU to Ukraine.

While none of these things were specifically promised in the agreement, the Dutch want them clearly placed off-limits in order to reassure their voters.

The draft document also says that fighting corruption in Ukraine is key to fostering closer ties between Kiev and the bloc.

The association agreement is being provisionally applied but the Dutch have said they will strike it down unless their requirements are met. The Netherlands is the only EU state not to have ratified the accord.

A low-turnout, non-binding referendum in April this year, instigated by Eurosceptic politicians, saw Dutch voters reject the ratification of the Association Agreement.

According to Reuters’ sources, Rutte is trying to use the restrictions on further integration in order to win support in parliament for the ratification of the agreement. 

One diplomat told Reuters’ Gabriela Baczynska that the agreement could fail completely if the demands are not met: 

“It’s expensive but worth it. At this stage, it’s either this or nothing.” 

It is important to note that the restriction on the right to reside and work freely in the EU will not impact the planned visa-free regime for Ukrainians, which is due to be approved by the European Parliament in the coming weeks.

Nadiya Savchenko has confirmed that she met with the leaders of the Russia-backed separatist ‘republics’ in Minsk last week.

Savchenko, then an officer in the Ukrainian military, was captured by militants near Lugansk in 2014 and illegally transported to Russia, where she spent nearly two years in jail and was convicted of bogus murder charges during a show trial. She was released home as part of a prisoner exchange in May this year and now sits as an MP in Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party.

Oleksandr Tkachuk, head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), told Interfax-Ukraine today that Savchenko had confirmed to his agency that she met with Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky on Wednesday.

Liga.net reports that they were told by a member of the Ukrainian delegation at the Minsk peace talks that Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky had flown into the Belarusian capital that morning. 

The delegate said that they had been told on their arrival that Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky had flown in shortly before them and were met at the airport by representatives from the Russian embassy and officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), who drove them off in a car.

Martin Sajdik, the OSCE’s special representative at the Minsk talks, told Ukraine’s lead representative, former President Leonid Kuchma, that he had no knowledge of Zakharchenko or Plotnitsky being invited to the talks. 

On Friday, Ukrainian Journalist Sergii Ivanov wrote on Facebook that his sources had told him that Savchenko crossed the border between Ukraine and Belarus on the night of December 6-7 and returned on the 8th.

Russian state media reported today that Plotnitsky had himself confirmed that the meeting took place, claiming that the discussion had occurred within the framework of the Minsk process.

However not only did the OSCE’s Sajdik deny any knowledge of the separatist leaders being invited to Minsk, but Darka Olifer, Leonid Kuchma’s press secretary, told Ukrainska Pravda that the members of the trilateral Contact Group had only found out about the meeting from press reports, stressing that neither Savchenko, nor Plotnitsky and Zakharchenko, were participants in the peace talks.

This evening, Savchenko herself finally made a public statement on the meeting.

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She said:

“I promised the people that I would get them out of jail and would even talk with the devil. Yes I sat down at the negotiating table with people, with whom we are shooting one another. I didn’t see the devil in them, because if I wanted to see the devil in them, then we wouldn’t have agreed on anything. I spoke with people.

“The meeting was aimed at reinforcing the Minsk format and making it more effective.” 

Asked whether she had informed the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and SBU of the meeting in advance, she replied:

“I am cooperating with the SBU and Foreign Ministry within the framework of the law as an MP. I am a deputy of the people, and I was elected by the people. They entrusted me with those powers so that I can fight for them and I am doing this.”

Savchenko confirmed that she had not agreed on the meeting with her political party, Batkivshchyna.

Batkivshchyna put out a statement this afternoon distancing themselves from Savchenko’s decision, restating their position that “there can be no negotiations with terrorists.”

Interestingly, the statement concluded:

“Nadiya Savchenko herself recently announced her participation in a new political project. She is not coordinating her actions with the Batkivshchyna party.”

Later this evening, Batkivshchyna’s leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, told the 112 news channel that the party will debate excluding Savchenko at their next meeting:

“Savchenko can plan her own life and her political activities as she sees fit. She has nothing in common with the Batkivshchyna party. Today we decided that we will gather the faction, literally on the first day of the week’s parliamentary session. We have taken the decision to gather the party, to invite Nadiya Savchenko and to discuss all these things and make a decision.”

Three Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in the Donbass yesterday, as Kiev reports 51 attacks by Russia-backed forces.

According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, 122 mm artillery and mortars were used across much of the Mariupol sector, with tanks and infantry fighting vehicles also used to shell positions in Shirokino, on the Azov coast.

27 more attacks were reported between midnight and 18:00 today, with the bulk once again seen to the west and south of Donetsk.

The OSCE reports having encountered armed personnel near Mariupol who identified themselves as Russian citizens.

From the December 9 report of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM):

In “DPR”-controlled Sakhanka (24km north-east of Mariupol), the SMM was approached by a civilian vehicle with Russian Federation licence plates and four men armed with assault rifles (AK-47) who engaged in conversation with the SMM. They were wearing military-type clothes. Two of them introduced themselves as Russian citizens.

— Pierre Vaux