Little more than two weeks ago, as the world turned its eyes towards the vicious terrorist attacks in Paris, violence once again flared up in Ukraine.
The current state of affairs is clear: on several fronts, the core values of Europe are threatened. Be it Islamic terrorists or Russia’s wars of aggression, it is vital that we safeguard our values and interests.
In Ukraine, Russian-controlled forces still use weapons, including tanks and artillery that were supposed to be removed from the front. It is obvious that in light of these transgressions, this is not the time for a return to ”business as usual.”
Of course, no one would prefer the current state of affairs to the system of mutual respect, peace and cooperation.
However, first and foremost, Russia must restore the trust that president Vladimir Putin has dashed, end the policy of restoring Moscow’s Soviet-time spheres of influence and unconditionally comply with international law and agreements.
On 17 November, the Social Democratic Group in the EU Parliament held a conference called Europe in Crisis – 40 Years of the Helsinki Final Act. The programme featured a session called EU-Russia: Restoring a Common Responsibility for Europe’s Security. Among those invited were two prominent Russian MPs – Alexey Pushkov and Konstantin Kosachev – as well as Kremlin adviser Mikhail Fedotov.
For all friends of liberty and democracy, the idea of celebrating the anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act by inviting representatives of a state which has broken the foundations of the 1975 Helsinki system of security and cooperation, is preposterous.
It was only after receiving a protest from 17 MEPs that the EP president Martin Schulz and the high representative, Federica Mogherini decided not to attend.
A few days later, it was revealed that commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had written a letter to the Kremlin expressing his desire to return to ”business as usual” with Russia, stating that he could ”assure [the Russian government] that the European Commission will be a helpful partner in this process.”
Again, we reiterate that we, too, desire restoration of peaceful and good neighbourly relations. First however, Russia’s government must take responsibility for its actions and provide reliable guarantees that it is willing to return to the respect of international law, including the return of the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula to Ukraine.
We fully support the stand taken by the European Parliament and the commission that it is up to Russia to fulfil the Minsk Accords, to put an end to its invasion of Ukraine and to let that country freely decide its own fate. It is the EU’s fundamental responsibility to lead the way towards restoration of European justice, peace, and stability.
Not business as usual
In June 2015, the European Parliament decided that there can be no return to ”business as usual” as long as Russia disregards its commitments to respect the European order.
Europe has now reached a point at which the integrity of the EU is being challenged by different forces aiming at the destruction of liberty and democracy.
The terrorist mass murders in Paris and the lockdown of Brussels during the last week of November cannot be viewed separately from Russia’s continuing aggression against Ukraine and its bullying of Russia’s neighbours.
If the EU does not support the Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom and prosperity, it not only betrays that people’s belief in us, but indeed the very values the EU is supposed to uphold.
We can’t have business as usual until business is as usual.
Gunnar Hokmark is Swedish MEP. Tunne Kelam is an Estonian MEP. Krisjanis Karins is a Latvian MEP. Gabrilius Landsbergis is a Lithuanian MEP.