Graham Watson MEP writes: The time has come for the EU to take decisive action over Ukraine

The past twenty four hours has seen the situation in Ukraine escalate from serious to critical. We are only now seeing the true extent of the clashes between police and anti-government protestors, with the number of fatalities standing at 26 but set to rise as the violence continues. What is clear is that last night’s attack on protestors by the police was at the direct order of the Ukrainian government. While the government claimed it was simply aiming to restore law and order, the underlying motive was for President Yanukovych to reassert his legitimacy. As far as I am concerned, Mr Yanukovych gave up any genuine legitimacy months ago when he authorised the use of rubber bullets and water cannons against largely peaceful demonstrators in Kiev.

This latest development must act as a wakeup call to EU leaders to stand on the side of democracy and the rights of the Ukrainian people. The time for diplomatic platitudes is over. The EU and its leaders must take decisive action to solve this crisis raging in our backyard.

That is why I very much welcome the decision to hold an emergency EU Foreign Ministers meeting tomorrow. When government representatives gather they must take bold action against the Yanukovych administration. In particular, it is vital that the EU imposes targeted individual sanctions against those key government figures that are responsible for this violent crackdown, and hits them where it hurts by freezing the financial assets they hold in Europe, as provided for in the measure I piloted through the House two years ago.

There should also be strong pressure to restore access to blocked media and TV channels and uphold the Ukrainian people’s right to the freedom of speech.

There is not only a political role for the EU to play in this crisis, but a humanitarian one too. Estimated reports put the number of casualties in Kiev in the hundreds with inadequate medical resources available. We must offer the medical assistance that is desperately needed.

In the long-term, Ukraine also needs to see a return to stability that will allow it to tackle the underlying causes of the protests: corruption, impunity, and the lack of checks and balances within the current governmental system. The EU can play a role by offering a substantial financial package in exchange for political reform, including the release of imprisoned protesters and restoring the democratic balance of power between the Parliament and the President.

The EU and its member states must be steadfast in their response. The time for waiting is over.

* Sir Graham Watson was a MEP from 1994 to 2014. He led the EP's Liberal Democratic Group from 2002 to 2009 and presided the ALDE Party from 2011 to 2015. He is now a Member of the European Economic and Social Committee.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Feb '14 - 7:24pm

    No, no, no! This is plainly a civil conflict, why should the EU or anyone else assume that we know what is best for Ukrainians?

    For geographical and historical reasons the Ukrainian economy is closely linked to that of Russia and this must be acknowledged. Anyone that has been there can see it. Certainly a large section of Ukraine’s society has more in common with Russia than the EU. Whether Ukraine’s interests lie long term in becoming the latest member of the EU’s periphery is debateable indeed.

    It is also worth adding that the 2010 Ukraine presidential election was declared as clean by, among others the EU. Have presidential elections been cancelled in Ukraine?

    The EU has no business meddling here, Ukraine needs to sort this out on its own terms.

  • Graham Watson’s summary of the position this evening deserves support.
    In particular the need for medical support is urgent. Ch 4 News this evening broadcast from what they described as the Kiev equivalent of St Paul’s Cathedral, currently acting as a field hospital for the pro-democracy protesters. The pictures are worth a thousand words.
    The military assault on the ordinary people by the Putin backed regime is appalling. The EU must act now to stop this getting even worse.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 19th Feb '14 - 7:38pm

    As far as I am concerned, Mr Yanukovych gave up any genuine legitimacy months ago when he authorised the use of rubber bullets and water cannons against largely peaceful demonstrators in Kiev.

    And yet there are those advocating that our police be given access to these weapons.

  • Well said Little Jackie Paper
    I am 100% behind the Ukrainian Demonstrators and their goals and aspirations, but they have been as guilty as the Police, in using extreme violence.
    Yanukovych was also fairly elected in 2010, so your call for Democracy is incorrect. Even though Ukraine is dominated by a clique of Oligarchs, the people have rightly had enough of the corruption, but the previous President Yuschenko was no better, even though he was closer to the West.
    Graham Watson is selective in his criticism of Police Violence against Demonstrators, as evidenced by the use Rubber bullets in Spain on:
    26/09/2012 · Police fire rubber bullets and beat protesters with truncheons at an anti-austerity demonstration near Spain’s parliament in Madrid
    Do the EU Members have more Political and Economic stability? Have you forgotten what has happened to Greece and Spain over the past 3 years. Huge demonstrations on the streets, with terrible violence from both Police and demonstrators. Greece in particular, has lost all Sovereignty, and is now being run by a Troika of the IMF, ECB & European Commission, all unelected Bureaucrats.
    There is also a huge amount of outside interference from the West and Russia, causing instability in the Country. The U.S.A in particular has been caught choosing who will be in the next Ukrainian Govt. This telephone conversation between the U.S Ambassador and a U.S State Dept Official, says it all!

  • I wonder if it is significant that in this thread and another in LDV the defenders of the regime in the Ukraine are all posting comments hiding their real identities behind screen names?
    I think I am correct in recalling that a wealthy lobbying organisation in the UK acts on behalf of Putin and his puppet inThe Ukraine. Part of their work involves wiping clean the image of these autocrats wherever they are exposed on the Internet. Could it be a coincidence that someone styling himself “Tsar Nicholas” has appeared in LDV this evening?

  • LJP is correct. This is a civil conflict in Ukraine, and the EU has no place intervening. Indeed this is yet another conflict where the ‘West knows Best’ has proved incoherent and impotent, in the face of an independent country’s democratic mandate.
    When are we going to stop dabbling in other people’s democratic!, affairs?

  • Tony Earthrowl 19th Feb '14 - 8:50pm

    Me thinks John Tilley is a Conspiracy theorist, so to keep him happy I am Commenting with my full name as opposed to Tony E which I posted with above,.
    I am British, and have many friends in Ukraine who are mostly anti-Yanukovych, so I come to my position on Ukraine without prejudice.
    I am very much on the side of the demonstrators, but I can see manoeuvrings from Russia and The West, who do not necessarily have the best interests of the Ukrainian People at heart, evidenced by The U.S.A in particular, who have been caught choosing who will be in the next Ukrainian Govt. This telephone conversation between the U.S Ambassador and a U.S State Dept Official, says it all!

  • Well John, very unusually I disagree with you too on this issue, and this is my real name! If a government has been properly elected through the ballot box and is not engaged in activities designed to prevent its replacement at a future election by an alternative government then there is no justification for supporting an attempt by the mob to overthrow it as in this instance, or as happened in Egypt last year, or as happened in Algeria when the army refused to accept the election of an islamist government and plunged the country into a prolonged civil war. And if Sir Graham’s definition of democratic legitimacy excludes every country that has employed water cannons and rubber bullets against its citizenry then there are very few members of the EU which would accord with his standards.

  • jedibeeftrix 19th Feb '14 - 8:58pm

    good to see that John is continuing his Cabbage Putsch to oust the impure from LDV.

    we, the agent provocateurs of the neoliberal elite, will not be able to continue our subversion of the noble liberal cause if this continues.

  • Tsar Nicholas 19th Feb '14 - 10:12pm

    @ John Tilley

    The reason I decided to post under a screen name is because I do not wish to encounter any difficulties in my job.

    I receive no money for expressing my views. I have a deep interest in international politics and history and above all, as a parent and grandparent, a profound wish to avoid a descent into a world war which may go nuclear.

    It struck me last August/September that we were staring into the abyss with a potential attack on Syria leading to a wider war, and I was profoundly relieved when Putin and Lavrov used some deft footwork to defuse the situation.

    I have no wish to be an apologist for tyrants. These days, however, the world is not as black and white as it was pre-1990. In 2012, President Obama signed the NDAA into law and that allows him to detain anyone at any time for any reason and for no reason without telling anyone. He is at the same time, presiding over a country with 5% of the global population and 25% of the world’s prison population. Torture is widely practiced, if not in the continental USA itself, but in numerous sites around the world. Drone strikes kill people indiscriminately, the guilty and the innocent, with no due process.

    ‘Tsar Nicholas’ is an appropriate screen name. The original was widely reviled as a tyrant but those who replaced him were infinitely worse.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Feb '14 - 10:40pm

    Just been brushing up on this topic. I still know next to nothing, but I advise humility from the EU and the US too.

  • tonyhill 19th Feb ’14 – 8:52pm

    Tony, I am happy to respond to you. You are a Liberal Democrat whom I respect and whose record of work for the party is undeniable. Sorry that we are not in complete agreement on this.
    Your comments on Egypt and Algeria are perfectly fair.
    However, I think you are wide of the mark when you say — ” If a government has been properly elected through the ballot box and is not engaged in activities designed to prevent its replacement at a future election by an alternative government then there is no justification for supporting an attempt by the mob to overthrow it “. I think the actions of the regime in the Ukraine since the last election is one that could fairly be described as designed to prevent its replacement at a future election. Media freedom has been limited. A significant political opponent has been jailed on what some would regard as trumped up charges. I have just been watching TV pictures of the Ukraine police tonight making Molotov cocktails and throwing them at the demonstrators. It has to be remembered that the demonstrators spent weeks in peaceful protest and most reports that I have seen put the blame for starting violence clearly at the door of the regime, operating with the support of Putin. Outside of Kiev in other cities across the Ukraine (not just in the western half) there have been peaceful demonstrations which have been met with extreme violence from the authorities.

    Like you I recognise that all sorts of governments use water cannon and rubber bullets, as friends in Belfast will recall only too well. But the scale and intensity of violent intimidation by the Ukraine president and his police thugs can be seen by the injuries currently being treated in the Cathedral in Kiev. It is on a scale similar to that used in Bahrain by the Saudi tyrants.

  • Whilst the EU considers how best to help the people in Kiev in their struggle for human rights just look what is happening insaudi Arabia. —

    What a farce that the person who is a heart beat away from being our head of state is dressing up and dancing with swords in a state that beheads its citizens and will not even allow women to drive cars. This is his tenth official visit ! No wonder some people here wonder why we bother about democratic values in the Ukraine when this man is next in line to become our head of state.

  • andrew purches 20th Feb '14 - 10:35am

    The last time we in the West interfered in the Ukraine it was the Crimea War against Tsarist Russia. and with an unresolved result it did in fact directly lead to the Great War in 1914 some sixty years later. Cannot we ever learn ? In Iraq, Afganistan and God knows where else, we have been fighting Wars on a matter of principal which have been completely inconclusive. The Ukraine will resolve its problems without any “help” from the E.U.,the U.S. or anyone else for that matter. There seems to be little difference in what the Ukraine authorities are doing with water cannon, rubber bullets and stun grenades against their people then that exercised by our government during the Troubles in Ireland on and off through the 20th century and even now. We do NOT need water cannon on our streets, nor other means of controlling democratic protest that gets out of hand.

  • I think andrew purches is wrong when it comes to the history of intervention in this area.
    Between 1917 and 1920 there were so-called White Russian armies operating in the Crimea as well as the whole of the Black Sea region with significant backing from the UK and other countries. Somebody may know better than me but I think there were UK regiments sent to support the anti-Bolsheviks.

    Not that this has much relevance to calls for freedom from oppression and proposals to provide medical supplies etc to pro–democracy demonstrators in 2014. I am the last person to suggest military involvement by the UK today. As far as I can see neither Graham Watson, nor ALDE have suggested any such thing.

  • Paul Reynolds 20th Feb '14 - 11:10am

    Whilst I agree that there are elements of proxy war here, survey data consistently shows that Ukrainians want to be in the EU, and maintain close economic (but not necessarily political) links with Russia. However the Russian government complains about Western interference whilst simultaneously regarding itself as having a right of control over its ‘brother’ Ukrainian state, emphasizing historical links. But this is largely propaganda. Before WW1 Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, allied with Italy and Germany and thus technically an enemy of Russia.

  • Paul Reynolds, I think you will find that whilst Galicia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Kiev and most of what is now the Ukraine was under Russian occupation. I think it had been since the Polish Kings ruled there, and before that the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. All of which indicates a shared European culture and history.

    People may better understand what is happening there today if they realise that Ukrainians have struggled against Russification for generations.
    The following from Wiki provides some insight —
    Following the gradual loss of Ukraine’s autonomy and suppression of the local Ukrainian and Polish cultures, Kiev experienced growing Russification in the 19th century by means of Russian migration, administrative actions (the Valuev Circular of 1863), and social modernization. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city was dominated by Russian-speaking population, while the lower classes retained Ukrainian folk culture to a significant extent. According to the census of 1897, of Kiev’s approximately 240,000 people approximately 56% of the population spoke the Russian language, 23% spoke the Ukrainian language, 12.5% spoke Yiddish, 7% spoke Polish and 1% spoke the Belarussian language.[26] Despite the Russian cultural dominance in the city, enthusiasts among ethnic Ukrainian nobles, military and merchants made recurrent attempts to preserve native culture in Kiev (by clandestine book-printing, amateur theater, folk studies etc.).

  • Given that Ukraine is, in historical, religious, linguistic and especially political terms two countries in one — two countries, moreover, separated by a sharp, consistent, and obvious geographical line, and each approximately equal in population — it is remarkable that there is not more of a constituency in support of a division. Perhaps it is simply that a united Ukraine is stronger than a divided one, and there are economic resources in each half that the other half would not like to lose. In any case, given that both sides prefer a united Ukraine, the question they must answer is how to constitutionally govern such a divided state in a way that prevents one half from oppressing the other half based on the transient results of an election.

    This is a question that Great Britain had to answer back in the 18th century, when it was still customary to imprison or exile the leaders of a losing political faction (Yuliya Tymoshenko can be seen as the Robert Harley of this scenario). Things worked out (though not easily, or quickly, or even particularly well) because the British retained the memory of Civil War, rebellion, and invasion, and were most unwilling to go through that again. Civil stability was, however, attained at the cost of a stifling of democracy and thorough corruption, neither of which would be recommended for Ukraine.

  • Well here is a first – I will endorse a comment from the Jedi. He is right to point up the Russian obsession with this bit of the Ukraine. Getting on for 300 years of Russification makes this probably the most Russian part of the whole vast country. The Russians are incredibly conservative under Putin (just as they were under the Soviets) and their word view is stuck somewhere in the nineteenth century.

    It will remain a problem in the same way as some of the outstanding “Russian ” cities in the Baltic States are potentially a problem. Some will say that if Putin gets his way in Kiev that the Baltic will be next.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Mar '19 - 3:21pm

    There is an election today in Ukraine, and a comedian might be elected, but so what?
    The USA already has one.
    The UK is a member state of the EU and, when we know the outcome, we should have a view on EU-Ukrainian relations.
    The Ukraine is not a member state of NATO, so we are not compelled to defend it against Moscow, but we could encourage the EU to encourage progress.
    Turkey applied for EU membership a long time ago and has a customs union with the EU, but that is not a guarantee of eventual membership, nor of any particular terms.
    In the past Turkey has resented countries which applied after them being allowed entry before them. Bulgaria and Romania are neighbouring examples.
    While we used to say that Poland is of comparable size to Spain, Ukraine is indisputedly bigger than Poland.
    Ukraine is a divided country, but that should not, of itself, be a barrier to EU entry. When West Germany helped to found what is now the EU a place was reserved for East Germany, which could have entered as a member state, but was actually included as part of a united Germany.
    Cyprus is an EU member state, albeit divided. There are holes in the dividing wall through which workers commute every day. So did we, but there are different currencies, (the Euro in the south). For tourism the Roman ruins are mainly in the north, but fly in and out via Istanbul.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Apr '19 - 9:20am

    The Ukraine has voted. There will be a runoff election for the top two candidates.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Apr '19 - 2:41pm

    Runoff election polling 21/4/2019, 05.00 GMT to 17.00 GMT

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