Minister Tuomioja's speech on "Ukraine at a crossroads"

Speech by Dr. Erkki Tuomioja
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Diplomatic Academy of Vienna
27 May 2014

Ukraine at a crossroads

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed an honour and a great privilege to address this distinguished audience here at the beautiful premises of the Vienna Diplomatic Academy, the home and springboard not only for the Austrian but also the wider international diplomatic community.

The essence of diplomacy is an honest debate, an openness and willingness for compromise and the constructive search for mutually beneficial and acceptable solutions. I think all of these qualities are still in high demand in the world and Europe of today.

But I am not here today to speak about diplomacy in the abstract. On the contrary, I will concentrate on a very concrete and special case where diplomacy as I just outlined it is urgently needed. I am of course talking about the still on-going crisis in Ukraine.

But perhaps instead of a Ukrainian crisis in singular it might in fact be better to talk about three overlapping crises in plural. I will tackle these three crises in turn. The bigger picture that emerges from them and their interaction gives to me some cause for concern. I also feel that it is a concern that should be shared throughout Europe.

First, we are dealing with an internal crisis in Ukraine. It is a political crisis and a crisis of domestic governance. It is fair to say that Ukraine has squandered nearly two and a half decades of post-Soviet independence. The key institutions and the very fabric of the Ukrainian economy have been left largely undeveloped. The political process remains divisive with an endemic lack of trust between the key political players, and indeed between the population at large and the political and economic elites.

For too long and for too many, Ukraine has been first and foremost a platform for personal economic gain and political power games, and the country has a reputation as the most corrupt country in Europe, and certainly not as a national project of sustainable growth and progress. For Ukraine to succeed and to become a stable member of the European family of nations these disruptive practices need to be stopped. Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in particular deserve better than what they have been getting.

The successful conclusion of the presidential elections two days ago in very challenging circumstances where criminal elements prevented perhaps at least 5 percent of the population from exercising their democratic rights is an encouraging sign. What Ukraine now needs is the consolidation of the political process with the new head of state so that the government can enjoy the trust and support of people throughout Ukraine, leaving no room or tolerance for armed groups of whatever variety to challenge the authority of the democratic state. This should be followed by parliamentary elections sooner rather than later to restore a fully functioning parliament and government to the country. These are the prerequisites for starting the necessary reforms in Ukraine to bring it on to a sustainable path.

To succeed in this, Ukraine will need both the space and the time free from external infringements and pressure. This brings me to the second crisis we are facing, a bilateral crisis between Ukraine and Russia. We know that Russia reacted to the implosion of the former President Victor Yanukovych’s government to annex the Crimea.

It is also evident that Russia has responsibility for the use of violence in Eastern Ukraine where it has encouraged, financed and even armed the separatists who have occupied public buildings, terrorized their opponents and threatened the integrity of the country. In so doing Russia may also have let out a genie out of the bottle which no longer is ready to take orders from the Kreml. Indeed the role of non-state actors on both sides not under direct control of any government has been a serious challenge and a contributing factor throughout the crisis.

The situation in Ukraine cannot be understood correctly only by looking at the events of the last weeks, month or even years. An understanding of the thousand years of history of the Ukraine and its neighbors is also necessary. Moreover, it is also important to review critically how the European Union has during the past ten years or so conducted its relations with its Eastern neighbors and Russia.

The so-called Eastern Partnership of the EU was never intended as an exercise in building an exclusive sphere of influence. It is clear that the EU does not want or need neighbors, let alone members, with bad relations or conflicts with other neighbors. However what happened was that particularly last autumn it came to be regarded as a zero-sum game of forcing countries to choose between the EU or Russian Federation.

This said we do not know if a more balanced handling of the Eastern Partnership policy would have prevented the crisis to coming to a head, nor do any possible mistakes the EU may have made in any way justify the use of force and the acts against international law that Russia has committed.

From the outset, Finland has stressed that the use of force, and threat thereof, are to be condemned as breaches of international law. Russia has violated Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The annexation of the Crimean peninsula cannot be accepted. Defining the future of Ukraine belongs to Ukraine itself and the task of the international community, Russia included, is to assist and not hinder this process.

Military action, or any other action that would further escalate the situation in Ukraine, is not a solution. The Geneva Statement of 17 April 2014 and the OSCE Road map that followed must be implemented swiftly to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens. The authorities of Ukraine, as an independent state, have both the responsibility and the right to guarantee the security for all citizens and stability in the country. It is important to support the Ukrainian government in stabilizing the situation. The Ukrainian government should be supported and assisted in working firmly to strengthen the rule of law, constitutional and economic reforms and the fight against corruption.

Furthermore, more efforts are needed to support the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission's work. Finland has sent 16 experts to the monitoring mission and is financing its operation so far with 900 000 euros. More assistance to the mission will be given, if needed. Also the EU is preparing a civilian crisis-management mission to Ukraine. This operation should concentrate on strengthening or alleviating some of the key weaknesses in Ukraine I just mentioned, rule of law and corruption in particular. It goes without saying that ensuring close coordination between all the international organizations and actors will be a key to their success.

The process of arranging roundtables in Ukraine is an encouraging step and one that needs to be continued and supported. We must bring the people from the streets, market squares and occupied buildings to the common negotiating table. I want to reiterate that violence and domestic unrest is not the way forward for Ukraine or any other country – dialogue, compromise and reconciliation are. This requires moderation and wisdom from all the parties and I do hope that there is now an increasing recognition throughout the Ukrainian society that a non-violent political process that seeks to ensure the unity and stability of Ukraine is in the interest of all Ukrainians.

For its part, Finland contributes to all efforts to solve the crisis, in the OSCE and in the EU. We promote the unity of the EU and fully implement its decisions. Finland encourages Ukraine to continue with its course of political reforms, including notably the constitutional reform. A meaningful dialogue between Russia and Ukraine must be established. It is of utmost importance to re-establish normal neighborly relations between Ukraine and Russia, and eventually to heal the EU-Russia relationship. The basis for doing this is the respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty as well as the support for strengthening democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, the crisis in Ukraine is not simply a local or a bilateral issue, but a wider question that affects the very foundations of European security. This is the third crisis we are dealing with.

It is clear that we have seen a harsh violation of collective and co-operative security in Europe. Even our various institutionalized mechanisms have not been able to prevent the situation from escalating in Ukraine

Having said that, I am satisfied with the relatively fast pace in which the OSCE has been able to deploy its Monitoring Mission. The Organization has returned to the international spotlight. Efforts by the Chairperson-in-Office, Switzerland and the OSCE as such in trying to de-escalate the crisis have been notable and deserve our full support. The Special Monitoring Mission has proven itself as a reliable and credible interlocutor. It provides us with objective, reliable and current data on a daily basis. The Mission has also been in constant coordination and cooperation with the Ukrainian authorities and other stakeholders.

The work of the Mission has our full support in our joint efforts of reducing tensions and fostering peace, stability and security in Ukraine, gathering information and reporting on the security situation, monitoring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as facilitating dialogue and promoting the normalization of the situation. We also have to realize, given the current realities on the ground, that the process will take longer than just a few months. It requires active and continued engagement and support from us all.

When thinking about the long-term implications of the crisis two cities come to mind. They are not Moscow and Brussels, nor Moscow and Berlin or Washington, but Helsinki and Vienna, the birthplace and the institutional residence of the OSCE. It is hard to imagine a lasting settlement to the current crisis without the OSCE and its principles taking the center stage in Europe again.

Once the most acute phase of the crisis subsides – and I do hope that it will have to take place sooner rather than later – we must find ways to renew our commitments to common security in Europe. I still cannot think of a better and more relevant mechanism and platform for these eventual discussions than the OSCE. In this respect I am hopeful that the Helsinki +40 process could, despite the challenging political situation, bring possibilities in building trust and understanding among the OSCE participating States.

Ladies and gentlemen, the quest for European security is an on-going process. Just like democracy, security and trust as its corner stone are never complete, never fully secured. We must always bear in mind that they can prove to be transient and therefore need to be actively nurtured, renewed, and reinvigorated. For me this is the key lesson of the current crisis.

Ensuring security in Europe is work that can never be successfully undertaken by the force of arms or through political pressure and intimidation. On the contrary, these are the very factors that have the potential to undo the hard won gains we have achieved together in Europe. This should be, and I think it also is, a genuine cause for concern for all of us. It should act as a rallying call to make us work constructively together. In the final analysis renewing our common security must be and remain a diplomatic process.

I thank you for your kind attention and very much look forward to the debate that will now follow.