AMID rapid developments in Ukraine and Russia, Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák led a delegation of Visegrad Four leaders to Kiev, pledging to help Slovakia’s eastern neighbour with reforms in various strategic sectors and continued cooperation in 2015.
“Slovakia will be the sponsor of the reforms in the area of energy security and over the security sector reform,” Lajčák said, with other V4 members to offer assistance in civil society, public finances and for small and medium sized businesses, among other things.
Lajčák took the lead on the trip as Slovakia holds the rotating presidency of the V4 group. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, Polish counterpart Grzegorz Schetyna and Hungarian Foreign Affairs Ministry State Secretary László Szabó also took part in the visit. The delegation met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Verkhovna Rada (parliament) Vice Chair Oksana Syroyid.
Klimkin went one step further in characterising the talks, saying that the V4’s help was designed to implement the Association Agreement with the European Union, which was finalised in June.
“It has just been agreed [at a meeting with the president] that each country assumes certain assistance in two or three important areas for the implementation of Ukraine’s agreement with the EU,” Klimkin said at a joint press conference in Kiev. “We agreed that next year the meetings between Ukraine and Visegrad Four countries will be almost positive routine, which will focus on each specific field.”
The visit to Kiev came on the eve of Poroshenko’s own trip to Warsaw and weeks after parties allied with Poroshenko won October parliamentary elections. On December 17, Poroshenko addressed the Polish parliament in Warsaw. Among his more provocative statements he appeared to indicate he aims to have the country join NATO in the future. “When I return to Ukraine, I will submit a parliamentary motion to renounce our non-aligned status,” he said.
As of press time there were signs that talks between Ukraine, Russia and rebels in control of territory in eastern Ukraine were set to restart as soon as on December 21. Russian President Vladimir Putin had twice spoken with Poroshenko – as well as German and French leaders – in the last week, according to multiple media reports.
Putin sought to play down fears of a mounting economic crisis as he held a year-end press conference on December 18, attributing the recent crash of the Russian rouble to “outside forces”. Though up slightly in trading on December 18, the currency had lost some 15 percent of its value against the dollar in the past week, and this despite a major hike in interest rates meant to stop the slide. In 2014, the rouble has lost about 50 percent of its value putting it on par with the Ukrainian hryvnia as the world’s worst performing currencies.
Even as Putin spoke, a European Union summit was getting underway in Brussels. Earlier in the day leaders had approved new sanctions on Russia, this time targeting potential international investment in Crimea and oil and gas exploration in the Black Sea. US President Barack Obama is also slated to sign legislation upping American sanctions on Russia.
In the wake of their visit the V4 delegation emphasised what they thought the necessary next step to improve tense relations between Russia and Ukraine. In a joint statement the V4 group pledged its support for the “full and unconditional implementation” of the Minsk Protocol and its follow up memorandum. Dating from September, those agreements called for a ceasefire in war ravaged eastern Ukraine. The agreements also banned offensive weapons in eastern Ukraine, called for creating a 30 kilometre buffer zone between warring sides and for the withdrawal of all foreign mercenaries from the conflict zone. Since then, both sides have accused one another of violating the agreements.
The joint statement also “welcomed the formation of a pro-reform majority” in the Ukrainian parliament. “Ukraine cannot do without reforms. The EU is prepared to provide maximum and significant assistance, implementation of the reforms is up to the Ukrainians alone, and no one can do it on their behalf,” Lajčák said. “We, the V4 countries, offer assistance to Ukraine drawing from our experience and expertise obtained through transformation of our societies and economies.”
Lajčák presented the Ukrainian Red Cross with a €75,000 check, a contribution that the Foreign Affairs Ministry claims raise Slovak direct aid contributions on the year to €800,000. All told, the V4 group says it has contributed €4.6 million above and beyond finances that came through the European Union. The Slovak and Ukrainian governments also look set to hold a joint session in early 2015.
“The V4 countries are Ukraine’s neighbours and friends,” Lajčák said. “We arrived to emphasise our solidarity and preparedness to assist because it matters to us that this important neighbour of ours is a stabilised, democratic and prosperous country.”
22. Dec 2014 at 0:00 | Benjamin Cunningham