Rasmussen speech to the European Parliament Security and Defence committee

Delivered Wednesday 11th October 2017 — It’s a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to discuss the security situation in Ukraine. I just came back from a visit to the line of contact in Donbas a few weeks ago. I’ve seen here the ramifications of Russia’s actions. The conflict is by no means […]

Delivered Wednesday 11th October 2017 — It’s a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to discuss the security situation in Ukraine.

I just came back from a visit to the line of contact in Donbas a few weeks ago. I’ve seen here the ramifications of Russia’s actions. The conflict is by no means becoming a frozen one. The reality is that in fact it is very much alive, if not getting worse.

When it annexed Crimea and invaded Donbas, Russia did not expect a united transatlantic response. But this is exactly what we did. Our sanctions have increased the cost of Moscow’s aggression.

The recent decision by the U.S. Congress to expand its Russia sanctions and, I would also say, the prospect of providing defensive aid to Ukraine is an even stronger step in the right direction. I think it’s fair to say that it has prompted Putin to rethink his actions. And Russia’s UN peacekeeping proposal must be seen in this context.

The version presented by President Putin is a trap. Let me make that quite clear, it’s a trap. But I think that rather than dismissing it, we should put Putin to test and push for a peacekeeping mission that would genuinely respond to the real needs on the ground and that would ensure peace.

The issue is not the OSCE monitors’ security, as Moscow claims. The real issue is the local population which is facing incomparably higher security risks, and not just on the frontline. Hundreds of villages are stuck in the grey zone between the two sides. Vast areas must be demined, a process that is constantly hampered by the shelling from Russia’s proxies.

So, Under the right conditions and a right mandate, the UN peacekeeping mission could become an effective enforcing mechanism to protect people, to protect infrastructure across the entirety of the occupied territory. It would create conditions to implement a political solution that restores Ukrainian sovereignty in line with the Minsk Agreements.

We as Europeans need to be more seriously engaged in these discussions – and be ready to offer troops to join the blue helmets, especially from EU members that are not members of NATO, I would say.

And we should urge the UN Secretary General to deploy an assessment team to Ukraine for a scoping exercise for a potential peacekeeping mission. Let me stress. This can be done without a UNSC consent. I know that of course the Russians can veto any Security Council resolution as can other permanent members of the UNSC, but the UN SG can deploy such a scoping mission on his own. So, I think we should urge him to do so to get the process to move.

I very am pleased that the European Parliament’s draft resolution on the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit is also supportive of the peacekeeping mission.

Indeed, so far, the EU has been largely missing in action when it comes to the war in Donbas. Germany and France are, as you all know, engaged in the Normandy talks – and the US has just named a special envoy for Ukraine. But I think we should ask the question where is the EU when it comes to solving the deadliest conflict in Europe?

I am afraid that some in Ukraine might start asking the same question. The U.S. has just strengthened its sanctions on Russia. The US has just shipped first supplies of coal to Ukraine to help Kyiv diversify away from coal mined in Russia-held Donbas. Washington is in talks with Ukraine about providing LNG and is actively considering supplying defensive systems to Kyiv.

In the meantime, we Europeans are allowing Nord Stream – which is nothing but a Russian plot to bypass Ukraine and undermine our energy security – we are allowing that to go ahead.

Instead of strengthening our own sanctions on Russia, we criticise our transatlantic allies for doing so.

We signed an Association Agreement with Kyiv, which will bring Ukraine closer to the EU. But as we know, in the short term it will bring a great deal of economic pain for the population in Ukraine.

I believe, however, that we can do more to strengthen Ukraine’s resilience – and by extension, our own resilience. On the security front, some European countries are already training the Ukrainian army.

But the soldiers also need secure communications equipment, or night goggles. What we should keep in mind is that Ukraine is not under any international arms embargo. It is a country that is acting in self-defence. And we in Europe could and should do more to help them.

Of course, we also need to help Kyiv make reforms a success. The EU is already providing substantial reforms aid to Ukraine.

But the reforms we support are causing economic pain before they bring any gain. We should continue constructive pressure on Kyiv for more reforms – but we also need to tread carefully not to give ammunition to populists and anti-reformist forces – or to fuel the Russian narrative – that Ukraine is a failed state.
We should think more about how we can help Kyiv cushion some of the negative impacts of the necessary reforms and we need to signal to the population that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This leads me to my final point. Ahead of the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit, some European governments refuse to even “acknowledge” – not to reward, not to act upon, but simply “acknowledge” – that countries such as Ukraine or Moldova harbour European aspirations. What kind of a message would this be for people whose loved ones lost their lives for Ukraine’s right to choose its future?

If we don’t offer a vision for a closer partnership, we risk losing the trust of our eastern neighbours that Europe can be a force for good.

By recognising their European aspirations, we bind them closer to our model of democracy and our values.

We should put further milestones on their road towards the EU – and demand strict conditionality to move forward. But we should not stop and say, “go home, implement the DCFTA and come back to us in ten years”. This is not how politics work.

Rebuilding Europe – something that President Macron but also President Juncker called for – cannot be done just within the European Union.

It is also about transforming our immediate European neighbourhood. This is something we knew very well just a decade or two ago. We cannot give up on that ambition – if we do, we will never be secure.

Ahead of the November summit, we need Members of this Parliament who care about European security to speak up and to demand that we keep our commitments towards our eastern partners. And I hope we can garner that voice.

Watch the full intervention and debate here