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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Promptly and frankly?

Last week Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara and Minister of Justice Olena Lukash met diplomats accredited in Ukraine
3 February, 2014 - 18:06

The goal was to explain the domestic political situation in this country. The circle of foreign states was widened this time. The chiefs of the diplomatic missions of EU member states, the US, and Canada were accompanied by the ambassadors of strategic partner countries. The ambassadors gathered at 12 sharp on rather short notice. Nevertheless, the briefing began at 12:15, although the minister of justice had arrived, escorted by submachine gunners (as The Day’s photo shows), at the ministry at 10 minutes to 12.

Opening the briefing, Kozhara complimented the ambassadors, calling them “professional audience” which knows about what is going on in Ukraine. At the same time, he emphasized that the government was prepared for a constructive dialog with the opposition and was complying with agreements. In particular, he cited the repeal of the 9 laws that had been passed on January 16, dismissal of the Cabinet, and adoption of the law on amnesty, which the opposition and the Maidan protesters had been insisting on.

Kozhara also said the government was in favor of a peaceful settlement of the crisis. In his words, the government and the opposition will be holding all the talks as openly and transparently as possible. The minister also stressed that the law-enforcement bodies had been showing tolerance in the past few days – they were instructed not to use special facilities or resort to special actions.

On her part, Minister of Justice Lukash chose this time not to accuse ambassadors of sticking to the “I didn’t see but I condemn” principle, as she had done at the previous briefing, when diplomats criticized the antidemocratic laws passed on January 16. She pointed out that the law on amnesty was the result of two-day negotiations and it was adopted on the opposition’s demand.

This time diplomatic corps representatives were told in the very beginning that they could ask three questions. The ambassadors did not have this opportunity at the previous briefing because ministers said they were to attend a Cabinet meeting.

The first to ask a question was the Swedish Ambassador Andreas von Beckerath. He asked when the president would sign the laws passed on January 28, whether somebody was brought to justice for a brutal attitude to protesters, and when we would see the first legal actions against the people responsible for this. It will be recalled that Kozhara would have had to answer a similar question at the January 27 briefing, when the foreign ministry showed the ambassadors a video in which the protesters were seen throwing Molotov cocktails at the riot police. The German ambassador wanted then to ask about the killed protesters but was denied the floor.

Ms. Lukash diplomatically evaded answering the Swedish ambassador’s question on the grounds that she chaired the ministry of justice and this question should be addressed to the prosecution service. She also failed to answer the question of US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who asked the minister of justice to explain the disappearance of dozens of activists in the last while. In the ambassador’s view, investigating these disappearances and promoting a peaceful dialog will help Ukraine regain trust, as far as her pro-European attitude is concerned.

The minister of justice said to this that her agency does not wield the same clout as the US Justice Department does. “I reject any kind of violence, I have no official or unofficial information,” she said.

It took Lukash several minutes to tell how her ministry was seized and two women, who worked until late at night on the final clauses of the Constitution, were taken hostage.

The German Ambassador Christof Weil, who sat next to his French counterpart Alain Remy and was noting something down, managed to ask a question this time. In particular, he welcomed the beginning of a dialog between the government and the opposition and opined that the dialog would be more meaningful if the two sides increased mutual confidence. He repeated the Swedish ambassador’s question about when the repeal law, passed on January 28, will be signed and also asked when we could expect the formation of a new Cabinet which should mirror a mutually-advantageous dialog.

Lukash began to answer, saying that it was difficult to sign a law on repealing nine laws perhaps even in the countries the ambassadors represent. The ambassadors showed no reaction to this. The minister of justice began to explain that laws are subject to juridical evaluation – first by the Verkhovna Rada staff. They have done this job, and now this document bears the parliament speaker’s signature. It is now up to the president to sign it within 15 days, she said. But, before doing so, he must receive conclusions from the relevant ministries. It will be recalled that the scandalous laws did not undergo any evaluation and, for some reason, the 15-days rule was not applied to them. The president signed them the next day (!).

At the briefing, the ambassadors of Germany, the US, and France welcomed the law on amnesty as a major success and a step towards overcoming the crisis. But far from all the diplomatic corps representatives share this view. For example, a European diplomat, who asked not to disclose his name, said that it would be a good compromise if the Kyiv City Administration remained in the hands of the opposition. “It is a real fortress, and if the opposition has to abandon it, it will lay bare its right flank,” he said. This person also thinks that sanctions played no role in that the government opted for a compromise with the opposition. In his view, it is the domestic and Russian factors that really matter. The diplomat presumes that Russia may have made exorbitant demands to the Ukrainian leadership, and the latter made some concessions to the opposition.

Canada, which has already announced the imposition of sanctions on Ukraine, also seems to be unsure about their effectiveness. The Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, Troy Lulashnyk, who sat in the far corner of the table, said to The Day: “We are working to produce a result.” He refused to comment on whether the sanctions imposed by the Canadian government have had an impact on the government of Ukraine.

It looks strange in this context that the chief of Polish diplomacy, Radoslaw Sikorski, has stated that the European Union can impose all kinds of sanctions at its disposal, including very harsh ones, as in the case of Iran, and the Ukrainian leadership should remember this. He said in an interview with RAR that the EU or the OSCE could be a mediator in the Ukrainian situation, but Ukraine itself must request them to do so.

The abovementioned interlocutor also told The Day that the EU had been established to resolve internal conflicts and is a bad player on the international arena. The message is: there is no point in talking about sanctions if Polish and Lithuanian diplomats (only these two countries favored granting Ukraine EU membership prospects) failed to persuade their EU counterparts to tell Kyiv well before the Eastern Partnership Summit that they will not sign the Association Agreement unless the demands are met. They did so only during the summit.

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day