Ukraine Association Agreement Rejected In Dutch Referendum

April 7, 2016
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte casts his vote in the referendum in The Hague. Photograph: Bart Maat/AFP/Getty Images

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Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


Both Sides Report Heavy Shelling Yesterday And Military Casualties In The Donbass

The Ukrainian military reports another day of heavy fighting in the Donbass, with 67 attacks yesterday and one soldier wounded.

According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Ukrainian forces returned fire ten times.

The report claims that Russian-backed fighters in infantry fighting vehicles (BMPs) fired on Ukrainian defensive positions near Luganskoye, on the highway between Bakhmut (formerly Artyomovsk) and separatist-held Debaltsevo.

Small arms fire was reported in nearby Svetlodarsk, while positions near Zaytsevo and Novgorodskoye, to the north and west of Gorlovka, were shelled with mortars.

Mortars were also used in attacks in the Donetsk area, on positions near Nevelskoye, Opytnoye, the Butovka mine and Avdeyevka, where the Presidential Administration reported one soldier wounded as a result of the shelling.

Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, claimed that no fewer than 100 artillery shells had been fired yesterday by Russian-backed fighters in the Donetsk area.

To the southwest of Donetsk, Ukrainian troops in Marinka were attacked six times with grenade launchers, machine guns, anti-aircraft artillery and small arms.

Military press officer Aleksandr Kindsfater reported mortar fire on positions near Krasnogorovka, northwest of Marinka, as well as Shirokino, on the Azov coast.

Kindsfater also reported attacks, conducted with grenade launchers, machine guns and small arms, near Novotroitskoye, on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, and Starognatovka, east of Volnovakha. 

In the Lugansk region, Ukrainian positions near the village of Novozvanovka were once again attacked, this time with anti-aircraft artillery and automatic grenade launchers.

Meanwhile the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) reported that three of their fighters had been killed and five wounded by Ukrainian fire over the last day. 

At the same time, Ukrainian military intelligence claimed that five fighters on the separatist side had been killed and nine wounded, referring to them as Russian servicemen. 

According to the DNR, Ukrainian forces fired 327 shells in 42 attacks on the northern outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as the villages of Kominternovo and Bezymyonnoye, east of Mariupol.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Association Agreement Rejected In Dutch Referendum

Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, has announced that his government can not proceed with the ratification of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukriane as a result of yesterday’s referendum.

According to the latest figures, the total number of voters just exceeded the minimum threshold of 30% to declare the referendum valid, with a turnout of 32.2%. 61.1% of those voting opposed the ratification of the Agreement, with 38.1% voting in favour.

Rutte wrote on his Facebook page last night:

“If the results of the referendum remain as they are today, then we can not continue with the ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. That is my political opinion. The no-camp has clearly won.”

The prime minister said that, once the official outcome had been declared, the government would discuss the matter with the Dutch House of Representatives and other European governments. 

The process, Rutte said, would take “weeks, rather than days.”

Reuters reports that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said this morning that the EU would wait until hearing the Dutch government’s proposals before making any decisions on the Association Agreement: 

“I will continue to be in contact with Prime Minister (Mark) Rutte on this, as I need to hear what conclusions he and his government will draw from the referendum and what his intentions will be. The EU-Ukraine agreement continues to be provisionally applied. The EU-Ukraine agreement has already been ratified by the other 27 member states.” 

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko remained sanguine last night while on a visit to Tokyo.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

“I want to stress that this referendum in accordance to the Constitution and legislation of the Netherlands, is an exclusively of consultative character. Now government, parliament and politicians of the Netherlands have something to say. I’m sure that strategically this event is not an obstacle on Ukraine’s path to Europe,” the president said in his comment regarding preliminary results of the referendum in the Netherlands.

The president noted that despite this Ukraine will continue down the path of European integration.

“I want to say with responsibility that despite this Ukraine will continue to implement in life Association Agreement, will provide creation of deep and overwhelming FTA [Free Trade Agreement] with EU since this is a way to modernization of the Ukrainian state, strengthening of its independence. We won’t turn from the way to European integration. Ukraine, as well as freedom, is unstoppable,” the president said.

Meanwhile the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, claimed that the no-vote was proof that Europeans reject the “Ukrainian political system.”

The vote, which is not legislatively binding, was widely perceived in EU as a poll of support or opposition to the European program in general, rather than a specific response to relations with Ukraine. noted sharp contrasts in the outcome of the vote in different areas:

Amsterdam was one of the few local authority areas to vote in favour of the treaty. Turnout in the Dutch capital was below 27% but the vote was 52.5% in favour and 46.3% against.

In Utrecht, Groningen, Haarlem, Leiden and Wageningen voters also backed the EU trade treaty with Ukraine. In The Hague and Rotterdam, voters were clearly against.

One of the organisers of the referendum campaign, Arjan van Dixhoorn, admitted to NRC that “we don’t really care about Ukraine.”

Far-right and Eurosceptic parties, not just within the Netherlands, seized on the opportunity to attack a major EU policy amidst growing discontent as a result of economic problems and nationalist tensions fueled by the refugee crisis and Islamist terrorism.

As BBC political correspondent Alex Forsyth notes

The referendum was triggered by the Eurosceptic movement, which used a new Dutch law designed to promote democracy to force a vote by gathering enough signatures on a petition.

From the start activists said this was a chance for Dutch voters to express frustration at the EU, in particular what they see as its desire to expand despite democratic shortcomings.

But they were not asked to simply pass judgement on the EU, and throughout the campaign those promoting a Yes vote were frustrated by what they saw as attempts by Eurosceptics to hijack a debate which should have been about relations between Ukraine, Russia and Europe.

Some say the multiple layers to this referendum mean the result cannot seen as a true reflection of the scale of Dutch Euroscepticism.

Nonetheless, the rejection of this deal will rattle the nerves of European leaders, who are already struggling to maintain unity in the face of economic instability and the migrant crisis.

The vote comes less than three months before British citizens decide in their own referendum whether to leave the EU altogether.

A spokesman for campaign group Leave.EU, Brian Monteith, said: “This humiliating rejection of the Ukraine agreement demonstrates that people don’t have to support the EU and its expansionist agenda to feel European.”

A good example of how the Dutch vote was seized upon by other Eurosceptic groups was the appearance of Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), campaigning in the Netherlands this week. 

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UKIP party leader Nigel Farage (C) arrives at a rally for the no campaign ahead of the EU referendum in Volendam the Netherlands April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Kooren
2016-04-07 10:34:32

Yesterday, The Telegraph reported that the European Parliament was investigating the use of EU subsidies by a think tank linked to Farage, the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE), to pay for an advert calling for the referendum.

The full-page advert was printed in the popular daily De Telegraaf in September and was an important tool in gathering the 300,000 signatures required to trigger the referendum.

Nigel Farage admitted to brokering the deal for the £31,000 ($43,663) deal but denied any impropriety.

Set as default press image

Eurocrats investigate deal backed by Nigel Farage behind Dutch referendum

The Netherlands goes to the polls today to vote on the EU-Ukraine treaty, in an "advisory" referendum that is seen as a vote on Europe, and the Dutch government's performance on issues such as asylum seekers and terrorism.Even though the Ukraine treaty has already been passed, if at least 30 per cent of people vote, the Dutch government has promised to respond.

View full page →

Apr 07, 2016 09:52 (GMT)

Indeed a tweet from Farage today indicated that he expects some form of reciprocity of support from his Dutch Eurosceptic allies as the UK prepares for a referendum on leaving the EU on June 23:

But while Eurosceptic politicians may be presenting the campaign against the Association Agreement as a vote against the EU rather than any particular attack on Ukraine, it would be naive to ignore the wider links between European populist and far-right parties and Russia, in particular via state propaganda outlets such as RT.

Farage’s language in the Netherlands this week was strikingly similar to that used by Kremlin mouthpieces, telling a rally that a no vote would be a “hammer blow” against an “expansionist EU plot.”

Farage has regularly supported the Kremlin position on not only Ukraine, but foreign policy in general.

As far back as 2008, Farage was parroting the Russian position on Georgia: 

The outcome of the vote may not, in the end, affect the Association Agreement with Ukraine itself, as every other European state has ratified it and parts of the deal have already come into effect.

But the lack of enthusiasm for the vote, and the energisation of Eurosceptic campaigns bodes ill for the upcoming British referendum and wider efforts to maintain EU solidarity on Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.

That is not to mention the disillusion the vote may instil in Ukraine, where hundreds died as Viktor Yanukovych’s government violently repressed protests that began when he suspended plans to sign the Agreement, back in November, 2013.

Ukraine Suspends Preparations for EU Association Agreement

The Ukrainian government suspended preparations for signing the Association Agreement today after a vote in parliament failed to achieve a sufficient majority to pass legislation that would allow the jailed former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment abroad.

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Apr 07, 2016 10:46 (GMT)

— Pierre Vaux