Foreign Minister Urmas Paet to the Riigikogu: Ukraine cannot create a basis for a new frozen conflict in addition to South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria


Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said today in the Riigikogu that the Ukrainian crisis is the biggest crisis of security and confidence in Europe after the Balkan wars and the conflict in Georgia. “Russia has led its troops into Crimea and this is an act of aggression against Ukraine – it is a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Paet emphasized. Paet said Russia must put an end to the aggression in Ukraine and restore the pre-crisis situation in terms of the areas of permanent stationing of the armed forces. “The resolution of the Russian senate approving the use of Russian military in Ukraine must also be annulled,” he added.

“The prime objective of the newly appointed Ukrainian government is to get the broken and severely shaken Ukrainian society to begin functioning again. There is a myriad of possibilities for peaceful solutions to the problems facing the Crimean population,” the Estonian foreign minister said. He added that Russia's intervention is in violation of a number of international agreements – the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, the Russian-Ukrainian Black Sea fleet agreements of 1997 and the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. “Russia is clearly in violation of international law, and is adding even more tension to the already critical situation in Ukraine. This is the polar opposite of what Ukraine really needs. No one needs further exacerbation of the situation. Ukraine, Crimea and the people of Russia do not need this,” Paet emphasized.

Currently, according to the Ukrainian government, 11 Ukrainian military bases are blocked by 1800 Russian troops, 60 military vehicles and 10 armoured vehicles, and the total number of troops transported to Crimea from Russian territory aboard war ships, helicopters and transport planes is 16 000. “Russian troops continue to block and control major government agencies and military objects in Crimea – the parliament, all civil and military airports, some communications facilities, radio stations, customs,  military and Coast Guard bases and the Ukrainian Navy Headquarters,” Paet enumerated.

“Russia's main goal is obviously a change of government in Ukraine and getting Ukrainian politics under its own control in order to ensure Ukraine's joining the Eurasian Union and Customs Union to secure their influence,” he added. “Developments in Ukraine and further steps have been discussed and will be discussed by the North Atlantic Council, the European Union foreign ministers, the UN Security Council, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Tomorrow, the EU heads of state and heads of government will consider the EU's further steps,” he added.

Paet said that the events of recent days must not create a basis for a new addition to the already frozen conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria. "Next, the international community will consider possibilities for imposing sanctions or restrictions. For example, a number of collaborative projects between Russia and the U.S. have already been suspended and the United States has stopped its participation in the G8 Summit," the Estonian foreign minister said. "At tomorrow's EU Council of heads of state and government leaders, economic restrictions may also be considered and a restriction of movement may be imposed, along with negotiations of the visa-free regime between Russia and the EU coming to a full stop," he added.

Estonia's foreign minister said it was very important that Ukraine and Russia start talks. "The Ukrainian government has repeatedly expressed its willingness to this end and the international community has offered to help mediate the talks," Paet said to the Riigikogu. "The OSCE Commissioner on National Minorities, the special representative of the current chairman and a media deputy are currently in Ukraine. An OSCE mission to Ukraine with the aim of gathering data on the conflict and attempting to prevent its aggravation is also being prepared. Estonia is ready to participate in this mission," he confirmed.

The international community must help Ukraine's new government in stabilizing the domestic situation, the Estonian foreign minister said. "Constitutional reform as well as free and fair presidential elections must be carried out. While consolidating Ukrainian society and returning to a peaceful path of development, it should be observed that all sectors of society are involved," Paet said. "Not a single religious, ethnic or social group can be left out of the new Ukrainian architecture, or feel that it is not their country. Estonia is also offering its help for Ukraine’s forthcoming serious reforms," he added.

Ukraine's economy is in a very difficult situation. "Ukraine urgently needs international financial assistance, otherwise the country’s economic stability is extremely questionable," the Estonian foreign minister said. “The International Monetary Fund will be sending experts to Ukraine in the beginning of next week, who will identify the exact extent of the country’s needs. EU foreign ministers have expressed their support for an international assistance package, which would help alleviate Ukraine’s immediate needs.” Paet stated that one of the determining factors in the further development of the entire situation is the issue of gas supply. Ukraine owes Russia 1,5 billion US dollars in unpaid gas bills and it is very likely that the current offer of cheap gas to Ukraine will end. This will increase the dept even more," Paet said. Other, more radical steps by Russia can also not be excluded, although in such a case, Russia’s own incomes will suffer badly.  That is why it is so important to develop alternative scenarios in case such things happen,” he added.

Corruption and the misuse of public funds were the main reasons for Ukraine reaching a crisis, the Estonian Foreign Minister said. “A manner of governing which led to disastrous consequences was what led the Ukrainian people to lose trust. The former rulers’ negligence aggravated poverty and discontent,” Paet said. He added that corruption has long divided Ukrainian society and this has minimized the faith of many in their leaders and institutions. “The EU Foreign Ministers Council decided on Monday that the Ukrainian treasury's funds were used criminally and assets belonging to people who have committed human rights violations shall be frozen,” Paet noted.

According to Estonia's foreign minister, it is extremely important that Ukraine continue to have EU accession perspective. “After all, the European Union must finally also be able to clearly say – people perished on Maidan through snipers’ bullets because they wanted their country to converge more quickly with Europe,” Paet said to the Riigikogu. In recent days, the European Commission and the Directorate General for Trade have started to prepare to adopt unilateral Autonomous Trade Measures which means Ukrainian goods will have tariff-free access to the EU market. An offer by the EU to sign free trade and association agreements with the Ukraine continues to stand, if Ukraine itself is ready for them. Currently the prerequisite for being ready for this is the election of a new president through free elections, foreign minister Paet noted.

Foreign Minister Paet stated that there are a number of concrete steps that Estonia has already taken in support of Ukraine. "We intend to definitely continue this trend," he said. "Estonia has committed 85,000 euros to those who have suffered injuries during the unrest in Ukraine. It total, this currently makes Estonia one of the largest humanitarian supporters of Ukraine in Europe following recent events,” Paet said. He added that Estonia has also decided to double the number of scholarships for Ukrainian students to come to study in Estonian universities. Last year, Estonia supported various projects in Ukraine via the framework of development cooperation with 340 000 euros.

In his speech, Paet also spoke about the possible influence of Ukrainian events on Estonia. “I assume that given the events in Ukraine, no one will call into question the expenses Estonia invests in its national security,“ Paet noted. “Defence spending at 2 % of the GDP – this number shows a realistic assessment of the situation, the time and place in which we live,” the Estonian foreign minister said.

Finally, Paet emphasized that the violation of sovereignty of an independent state for fabricated reasons is not acceptable. "International law is binding for all parties. Russia must also respect and understand this,” Paet said to the Riigikogu. “Otherwise, we will return to the era before laws, when the rule of the strongest was in force. I'm convinced that not a single person, country or international organization desires such a scenario,” the foreign minister added.

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