The Prime Minister's announcement on the situation in Ukraine on 12 March 2014

Government Communications Department 12.3.2014 12.10
Prime Minister's Announcement -

Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen

Mr Speaker,

The situation in Ukraine is very serious and the events of recent days have aggravated it further. I want to believe in the de-escalation of tensions but, realistically speaking, contrary developments are also possible. The situation is very sensitive and susceptible to provocation, and no-one knows for certain what will happen next. At any rate, Finland and the EU will do their best to pave the way for a sensible and responsible solution that will enable Ukrainians to determine and decide freely about their own future.

Ukraine’s development has for a long time been politically and economically unstable and tarnished by corruption. With the demonstrations, which began at the end of last year, Ukrainians have called for a change of direction and a clear move towards Europe. The clash between the rising civil society and its opponents came to a painful head and finally led to a change of political leadership in Kiev.

As regards the role of the EU over the turbulent weeks on Maidan Square, it must be noted that the EU did not at any stage seek to become a party to the situation. The EU played an important and valuable role in the negotiations, and I believe that the measures taken by the EU and certain EU Member States were conducive to ending the violence, which by then had claimed dozens of victims.

Now, Ukraine has a new Government that is approved by Parliament elected in 2012 but, due to the current internal situation alone, the Government is facing an extremely challenging situation. Stabilisation of the country's economic situation will require enormous work. However, the most difficult and acute threat relates to Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The biggest danger of escalation is also connected with this issue.

Russia’s action in Ukraine, and particularly in the Crimean peninsula, is a breach of international law and a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Finland has explicitly condemned this, both at national and EU level. At the moment, the Crimean peninsula is, de facto, governed by Russian troops. Ukrainian bases and border guard stations in the region are under siege by Russians. On 16 March, Crimea’s regional parliament will hold a referendum on making the region a part of the Russian Federation. According to the Ukrainian constitution, the regional parliament does not, however, have the right to hold such a referendum.

In their meetings, the President of the Republic and the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy have repeatedly discussed the situation in Ukraine. The situation has also been on the agenda of the Cabinet Committee on EU Affairs. Finland has emphasised, and continues to emphasise, that negotiations are the only way to create a sustainable solution. Any measures that escalate the situation are wrong and irresponsible. With political will from all parties, it will be possible to settle the crisis peacefully and democratically.

Mr Speaker,

As regards the efforts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, Finland will act primarily through the EU and together with the other EU Member States. We do not imagine that the situation could be settled through national level action in Finland. The European Union is making a determined effort to address the situation and the declaration issued by the EU Heads of State or Government last week is a strong appeal for a peaceful resolution. The European Union stands united in this matter. This unity was one of Finland's key objectives at last week’s summit and it will shape our future action, too.

Russia has expressed concerns about the treatment of minorities – or, as is the case in Crimea, of the Russian majority – in Ukraine. It is clear that particular attention must be paid to the protection of all minorities. Any violation of the rights of minorities is a breach of international agreements, and allegations of such violations must always be addressed in accordance with international law and together with international organisations. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, and the Council of Europe are the right organisations to assist in this kind of work. Ukraine must naturally be ready to cooperate with international organisations in issues concerning the protection of minorities. 

Objective information is the key to resolving the problem. For this reason, the EU strongly supports that international observers be deployed to examine the situation in the autonomous Crimean Republic. The EU calls upon Russia to allow observers to enter the area. Preventing independent observers from going to the area and action to disturb their work is against international law and objectionable.

In addition to fact-finding, international assistance will be needed in efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement. Talks between Ukraine and Russia are a number one priority, but the European Union also welcomes the idea of setting up a special contact group to facilitate the negotiations. Reactions to international mediation will show the level of political will that the parties have as regards the attempts to resolve the crisis.

In terms of Ukraine’s future development, it is vitally important that the forthcoming elections are free and fair. International support will be available to safeguard this. Similarly, determined effort must be made to promote constitutional reforms and strengthen the rule of law. All serious acts of violence and human rights violations in Ukraine over the past weeks must be investigated regardless of the suspected perpetrators. In addition to the presidential election, preparations must also be made for new parliamentary elections.

As pointed out earlier, the Ukrainian economy is in a very poor condition. Its industrial structure is underdeveloped and its public finances are in a dire state. Corruption is also a real problem that further erodes the economy and society at large. It is in the interest of all parties to prevent the Ukrainian economy from collapsing and the European Union is ready to provide economic support for the country. There are, however, certain preconditions for this – Ukraine must commit itself to structural reforms aimed, for example, at rooting out corruption. Also, it will be necessary to find ways of repatriating funds that have been illegally transferred to foreign accounts from Ukraine.  According to various estimates, such transfers could amount to tens of billions of euros.

It is evident that measures to economically support Ukraine will require action by the broader international community. The role of IMF is of central importance, but the participation of the EIB and the EBRD is also necessary. The European Commission has put forward a set of measures to help stabilise the economic and financial situation in Ukraine. The EU is to decide on the matter very shortly. The main sources of support would be the EU’s budgetary reserves and loans from international financial institutions.

The European Union is committed to signing an Association Agreement with Ukraine. The signing of the political sections may take place fairly soon. The EU may also accept unilateral measures that would enable Ukraine to benefit from the free trade provisions under the Association Agreement. The EU accounts for 31 per cent of Ukraine’s foreign trade.

Mr Speaker,

The current state of the EU-Russia relations is of concern. From Finland’s point of view, the situation is particularly unfortunate, as Russia is of relatively greater significance to Finland than to the other EU Member States.

At its last week’s meeting, the European Council decided to suspend its bilateral talks with Russia on the New Agreement as well as on visa matters where the long-term goal is agreement on visa-free travel between the parties. Both objectives are important to Finland but the current circumstances make it impossible to continue such talks. The EU expressed its support for the decision made by those Member States who are participants of G8 and by the EU institutions to suspend, for the time being, their participation in activities associated with the preparations for the G8 Summit.

The European Union urged that a solution to the crisis should be found through negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and that such negotiations should start within the next few days. In the absence of positive results, the Union is prepared to decide on further measures in relation to Russia. Such measures could include travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit. The Union also warned that any further steps by Russia to destabilise the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional consequences for relations in a broad range of economic areas.

Finland strongly emphasises the importance of a negotiated resolution. In the present conditions of interdependence, political unrest will inevitably lead to economically negative market reactions. As regards sanctions and counter-sanctions, both parties stand to lose. The EU cannot, however, stand aside and allow measures that escalate the situation and violate international law.

It is clear that the unity of the EU’s action is of key importance here as well. Membership of the European Union is a fundamental value-based choice for Finland. It also includes a strong security policy dimension. Finland has consistently promoted the strengthening of the EU’s common security and defence policy.

Our Russian policy is based on measures that will support efforts to make Russia participate in international cooperation and rule-based activities. Our goal has been – and continues to be – natural, uncomplicated European neighbourly relations, which will benefit Finland, the EU as a whole, and Russia. This goal will remain the same even if it has been seriously dented by the events in the Crimean peninsula. Finland would welcome increased interaction at the level of citizens and good ‘everyday’ neighbourly relations.

The European Union and Russia need each other. Russia’s cooperation and constructive input is needed in a number of international policy issues, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iran.

Therefore, the situation is extremely difficult and tense. With its policies, Russia is in a position to affect the situation quickly. To be able to find a peaceful solution to the crisis and avoid the consequences of an escalation of the situation, Russia will have to re-establish respect for international law. 

Mr Speaker,

The situation in Ukraine causes concern among Finns with regard to our own security. This is understandable. We are dealing with a serious crisis but not with a direct security risk to the Finnish people. Nevertheless, our defence administration is carefully following the development of the situation. As regards the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis, Finland is first and foremost likely to feel its adverse economic effects.

Ukraine is an important European country. Therefore, the crisis in Ukraine touches the whole of Europe and the broader international community. Ukraine will need the resolute support of the international community. Finland is doing its best to facilitate a resolution to the crisis.

Jyrki Katainen