Rebecca Harms: European leaders and US President Obama have to be clear that they do not accept the zigzag policy of Mr. Putin
Rebecca Harms, the President of the Greens-European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, is one of EMPs who watch the situation in Ukraine closely. During her latest visit to Ukraine, The Ukrainian Week took a chance to speak to her shortly after her return from Eastern Ukraine.
UW: You have just returned from Eastern Ukraine. How can the EU and the European Parliament help the Ukrainian government to deal with the situation there?
After my meeting with the soldiers, people from self-defence, businessmen, ordinary citizens, people from all political parties of Ukraine in Kharkiv, Slovyansk and Artemivsk, I think that first of all, it is very important that the EU clarifies how it is going to help Ukraine to develop its right to independent decision-making. I was confronted with many doubts about what the EU or European leaders are really thinking and ready to do in order to support peaceful democratic ideas of the big majority of Ukrainian citizens.
UW: Do you think the West is united in its position on Ukraine at the moment? There seems to be a lot of mutual mistrust within the West, especially between Germany and US, especially after the resumed spying scandal.
First of all, nobody can doubt that without Russia’s support to the self-declared separatists the destabilization of the Donbas would be possible. Russia could, at least, have closed the border awhile ago. There is information that there are many Russian soldiers along the border. If they want to close the border, they are able to do it. I can understand that the Ukrainian government is very upset about the fact that this has been promised again and again but has not happened. I think that European leaders and US President Barack Obama have to be clear that they do not accept the zigzag policy of Mr. Putin.
UW: But coming back to the spying scandal…
The spying scandal is a different matter. Since 9/11, the US has had a new approach to security which is to balance between their priorities of freedom and security, and it is very different from the European one. We have to address this issue, because this concerns the rights of European citizens, so we would weigh the two topics in a different order than the US are now doing. We say that it is going too far when every citizen and every politician, even heads of states, are followed by security services, their phone calls tapped.
But what we discuss with Americans does not matter when it comes to Ukraine and the strategy towards Russia. The West, especially the EU, must be unified on this issue because it has signed the Association Agreement with Ukraine. It has been prepared for years and did not mean any aggression towards Russia. Nevertheless, it was because of the Association Agreement that Russia decided to occupy Crimea first, and is now obviously backing self-declared separatists. I don’t know to what extent it is backing them, but it is. The Europeans have to really decide what their role and their task is now. Economic sanctions could be really an alternative to military escalation. Right now I feel that to bring down the escalation in the Donbas and to prevent Ukraine from being trapped in a war, it is very important that the international community takes decision to close the border in between Russia and Ukraine.
UW: Concerning the situation in Germany, how can the mood there, which was not that sympathetic to Ukraine, be changed, taking into consideration the flow of Russian propaganda there?
My impression is that the MH17 catastrophe and the death of almost 300 people has changed the discussion and become the turning point in European countries. They are still missing the real proves, but the strategy of separatists and of Mr. Putin so far have not really convinced anyone that pro-Russian forces and self-declared separatists are interested in true, fair, and open investigation of the case. It looks more like they are interested in destroying the traces and facts. And this is having an impact on discussions in the EU. I think that this catastrophe has changed the compared to what it had been from the very beginning when Russia attacked Ukrainian territory in Crimea and became an aggressor to a country it should have protected under the international nuclear disarmament treaty – Budapest Memorandum.
UW: Why both Ukrainian the EU politicians are quiet about the Budapest Memorandum now?
I wouldn’t say that this is the case in the EU. We have recently (July 17 – Ed.) published another resolution in the European Parliament highlighting the most important facts to be taken into account on the situation in Ukraine, including the Budapest Memorandum
UW: What should be the strategy of the EU towards Russia? How should it work with Russia now?
I think what we should give a sign to the Russian population. I don’t know what is going on in Russia, but what we are doing is not against the citizens of Russia. It is in favour of civil movement and democratic development of Ukraine and it is the Russian government and Russian president who decided not to accept Ukraine’s right to self-determination. We wanted good relations with Russia. We have economic and political relations with many Russians, not only official ones. We want to keep them, but Russia decided to provoke destabilization of Ukraine. If this continues, the EU has to completely rethink all its relations with Russia.
UW: What will the revised relations look like?
Difficult. Ukraine knows very well how difficult it is to escape deep economic ties and relations with Russia and to replace its huge demand. It will probably happen stepwise, but this will not only change Europe, this will also change Russia, because Russia depends deeply on good political and economic relations with the EU too.
UW: Ukrainian Premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on July 18 that Ukraine prepares to suspend trade relations with Russia. Will the EU now somehow help Ukraine reorient its markets?
The EU tries everything. The problem is that the recovery of the Ukrainian economy cannot be fully organized by the EU. I see as the top problem the fact that the Ukrainian economy is going down even without cutting relations with Russia. There is a huge problem with banks and problems in the banking sector will probably have to be fixed first of all.
UW: I would like to ask you a question as a German citizen. After the fall of Berlin Wall, when the DDR and BRD were getting together, there were a lot of problems in society as well: Ostalgie, for example. Do you see any similarities between Eastern and Western Ukraine in that sense now? How can they find consensus? How did that happen in Germany?
Ukraine can learn a lot from German experience in this situation, especially on transformation of the country. East Germany belonged to the Warsaw Pact states. Transformation of the former Warsaw Pact state was difficult politically, economically and socially. It is a difficult and demanding process, it takes time, generations. Ukraine is in an even more difficult position, because in Germany we had much more investments in restructuring of East Germany compared to all other states in transformation. But in spite of being difficult, the process still goes on. Sometimes, in discussions on Ukraine, I can feel that there are many citizens, especially in the Eastern part of Ukraine, who still follow old ideas. They feel lost between the past and the future. Old system feels easier to live with, especially in very difficult regions like the Donbas.
UW: How can this be cured?
It takes time, and it takes talking. I had a very interesting meeting with lustration committees from all over Ukraine. We can learn from good and bad experiences in Germany and other Central European countries. You should find out especially now, before the new elections, who the right persons to take on the responsibility in the public, judicial, tax sectors in Ukraine are, and whom the Ukrainian citizens can trust if they pay taxes, go to court, ask permission to run a business, construct a house, etc. These ideas of lustration which many Ukrainians feel committed to are very important for the future of Ukraine.
Rebecca Harms was born in 1956. Fighting against nuclear power has always been important to her private and political life. In 2004, Ms. Harms became member of the European Parliament where she is the President of the Greens/EFA group. Since 2009, Ms. Harms has been a member of Delegation Ukraine in the European Parliament.