At the outset, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the signature of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on the margins of the European Council last Friday. I am convinced that the Agreement will give an impetus for political and economic reforms, bringing about modernisation, strengthening of the rule of law and economic growth.
Against the backdrop of an extremely serious security situation in eastern Ukraine where government forces have been clashing with pro-Russian separatists, President Poroshenko declared a unilateral seven-day ceasefire on 20 June, subsequently extended to 30 June. The ceasefire was announced alongside a 15-point peace plan which envisages action in a number of areas, including de-escalating the security situation, addressing the humanitarian situation and pursuing political reform. The plan offers an amnesty to separatists who disarm voluntarily as well as corridors to allow Russian and Ukrainian ‘mercenaries’ to return to Russia. It also envisages changes to the Ukrainian constitution to enable the devolution of more power to the regions, as well as greater protection for Russian-language rights.
On 23 June, following talks facilitated by the OSCE, pro-separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine announced that they would adhere to a ceasefire. Although the OSCE reported that the security situation in eastern Ukraine improved following the announcement of the ceasefire, we remain very concerned about continued activity by armed separatists in the region which, tragically, has led to further casualties. The Ukrainian authorities have reported that the ceasefire had been violated 108 times and led to the deaths of 28 Ukrainian soldiers with 70 injured.
Ireland regrets all loss of life in the conflict and calls for urgent progress towards a peaceful solution to the crisis. It is also of the utmost importance that trilateral talks between Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE achieve tangible results soon, to prevent further loss of life.
Ukraine was discussed at the EU Foreign Affairs Council last week, which the Tánaiste attended. Ministers were briefed on the current situation by the new Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Pavel Klimkin, who presented the peace plan and called for our support. In its conclusions, the Council welcomed the peace plan as a major chance for de-escalation and commended President Poroshenko’s determined actions towards peace and stability in Ukraine since his inauguration. Ministers also called on the Russian Federation to support the peace plan and adopt effective measures to stop the continued flow of illegal fighters, arms and equipment over the border into Ukraine. The Council conclusions also reaffirmed the EU’s strong condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol.
Ukraine was also discussed at the European Council last Friday when President Poroshenko met with EU leaders. The HOSG subsequently called for several steps to be taken by Monday of this week, including agreement on a verification mechanism, monitored by the OSCE, for the ceasefire and for effective control of the border. After that, the European Council will assess the situation and reconvene if required to take what decisions may be necessary. For his part, President Poroshenko indicated that he would be prepared to further extend the ceasefire if there was compliance with the conditions set by the European Council. Regrettably, in the absence of such compliance over the weekend, President Poroshenko announced the resumption of military operations against the separatists yesterday. He made clear that he was willing to reinstate the ceasefire if it became clear that all sides were ready to carry out all aspects of the peace plan.