Mr President [of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko], first of all thank you for the very warm welcome. Once again, it is a pleasure for me to be back. And the main message, as you mentioned, is a message of clear, united European Union’s support to Ukraine, to its citizens, its authorities, first and foremost on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country and on the determined, courageous reform process that the citizens expect and see in these recent months with, I would say, impressive progress. I can even speak of successes, because last year, in particular after the entry into force of our Association Agreement and the visa-free travel to the European Union for Ukrainian citizens, we have, indeed, assisted with a major move forward in the reform agenda.
I had the chance to discuss this with the President today, but also in my meetings with the Prime Minister [of Ukraine, Volodymir Groysman], with the Foreign Minister [of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin] and with the Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territories [of Ukraine, Vadym Chernysh] we will discuss the situation there just immediately after this meeting. I will also talk with civil society and students, who I will be pleased to meet at the university here to talk about the opportunities and the potential for our common work for this new phase of our relationship that is really opening up space for improvements in the everyday life of the citizens of Ukraine that are fundamentally important also for the European Union.
We are moving forward not only on the bilateral track in the relations between the European Union and Ukraine, but also on the multilateral one, with a very successful Eastern Partnership Summit last November. And I would like to thank you, Petro [Poroshenko, President of Ukraine], for the excellent contribution that you gave personally to the Summit and the important contribution of Ukraine to this Summit.
We endorsed in November in Brussels a very ambitious work plan. On that basis we are already working towards concrete results in 20 areas in support of smaller and medium-sized enterprises, digital economy, investment in transport, energy, infrastructure projects, - a very concrete list of fields for practical cooperation in which, I have to say, Ukraine's contribution as an associated partner of the European Union is extremely important. And we see that all the different files were moving forward in a very encouraging manner. I know, things sometimes move fast and then on the citizens' side you still need to see the translation of this into the daily life. But the clear impression we get in Brussels is that things are moving forward with a determination, with a pace that is extremely positive and encouraging.
I will come back to the reform process in a moment, but I would like to say that first and foremost with the President - as always and in all our previous meetings - we discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine, underlining the European Union's unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Our common work is to achieve a full implementation of the Minsk agreements, which I discussed today also with the OSCE ambassadors in charge of the Special Monitoring Mission and the Trilateral Contact Group [on Ukraine]. We also work with the Normandy negotiating format, as you mentioned, with a close, constant contact with France and Germany to bring about a sustainable, political solution that fully respects Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. For us this is an absolute priority.
Our support in this respect has always been there, in a united manner. You mentioned decisions the Council took today - quite timely. I will have the opportunity to debrief the Foreign Ministers of the 28 Member States of the European Union next Monday about my visit, where we will also have a discussion on our common work with Ukraine. We have underlined also the clear responsibility of Russia in this situation. And, as you know, the economic sanctions on Russia from the European Union's side are clearly and directly linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.
By now, as the President was mentioning, our work has not only been on the diplomatic side but also on the humanitarian one. We have provided, as the European Union, almost €700 million in humanitarian aid for people affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. This includes a new tranche, €24 million, which we announced only two weeks ago. We, as the European Union, are also the main contributor to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, providing most of its monitors and €33 million funding so far. We are currently working on another package of support worth around €16 million.
This is to say that our solidarity, our support, are not only declarations of principle. We are present. We are present with financial but also with human resources on the ground. And this is because we believe that Ukraine's security, Ukraine's independence, Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty are also an immediate investment in European security at large. And this is why we stand in full solidarity.
Let me also say that for us - and for me personally, also - it is extremely important that this visit I pay to Kyiv is happening just a few days before the 4th anniversary of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. We do not recognise the annexation. We will continue with our implementation of the non-recognition policy of the annexation and we continue to condemn this violation of international law. We do not recognise the so-called ‘elections’ there and we remain committed to fully implementing our non-recognition policy, as I said, including through sanctions related to this.
We will continue to call for the respect of human rights of all Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, including Crimean Tartars. And we will continue to call for the immediate release of all those who have been detained and sentenced in breach of international law.
To go back to the reform agenda: We discussed at length with the President the progress - impressive progress - that Ukraine has been making in key reforms which is part of implementing our Association Agreement. This is why we are working so closely and well together on this agenda. And I praised the government, the President, the Parliament for the significant progress made over the past two years and in particular over the last months.
However, we see clearly that the work needs to continue. More progress is needed and is expected by the Ukrainian citizens. And this is only normal when high expectations are there and a good energy is there and results start to come. In particular, I want to mention the need to do more on the fight against corruption, including by allowing the anti-corruption institutions to investigate, prosecute and eventually ensure convictions. Ukraine's international partners, starting from the European Union, would like to see the establishment of the High Anti-Corruption Court fully in line with the recommendations of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission.
The European Union continues, as the President rightly mentioned, to stand by Ukraine and its citizens not only by political solidarity and political common work, not only through our support to the efforts to find a solution to the conflicts - be it in the Normandy format, be it through the OSCE - but also with clear financial support. Just last Friday - and I am glad I can announce it here - the European Commission proposed a new EU Macro-Financial Assistance programme for Ukraine worth up to €1 billion in loans. And I know the extent of your personal involvement, Mr President, in the related discussions. We will, obviously, continue to work together now, to make sure that this moves forward in a smooth and useful manner.
We also remain extremely committed, as the European Union, to the civilian security sector reform in Ukraine. We are working with Ukrainian authorities through one of our civilian missions. Let me say the EU Advisory Mission has just last week opened its third regional office in Odessa to further support reforms throughout the country. And this is another sign of our concrete support to the work the country is making.
We also had the chance, as the President rightly said, to discuss the recent decision by Gazprom to suspend already prepaid gas supplies to Ukraine. We agree that Gazprom must respect its contractual obligations and as you probably know the European Commission, through Vice-President [Maroš] Šefčovič [in charge of the Energy Union], is already engaged in talks and we stand ready to facilitate further trilateral talks to find a positive solution to this.
To conclude, let me state once again our commitment to Ukraine, to its people, to its authorities. We stand with you in your aspirations, in facilitating or supporting your work to build a stronger, fairer, more democratic Ukraine with opportunities for all, with perspectives for the young people. And we stand on your side for your sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence as we have constantly done in these dramatic four years, working for changes in this respect that I think would be essential for peace and territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152415
Q. On EU fatigue in support of Ukraine.
First of all, I do not see any fatigue in the European Union and I think that the decision that the European Union took by unanimity again today to extend the sanctions is a clear sign of that; including the decisions we took recently on the financial assistance, on the humanitarian financing. You see in the last couple of weeks that decisions clearly show that there is no fatigue in our support to Ukraine, also because we have seen results coming up - results in the sense of achieving reforms, moving forward on the agenda, that is not dictated anywhere else than by the Ukrainian people because every time I meet especially young people, the civil society in Ukraine, I see the anxiety, the desire, to see the country changing, to see reforms approved and implemented. I think this is the engine that moves the institutional work.
We are here to support, to advise when we can, to share our experience and to make sure that the political will, the political aspirations of the people of Ukraine are fulfilled. This is why there is no fatigue on our side because we see the aspirations, the desire, the willingness and some first results coming and we see this as an investment in our common European continent.
There is also no fatigue in our work to support the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Obviously there is a certain frustration that I think we all share regarding the lack of progress on the implementation of Minsk [agreements] and there is the determination to do more. You mentioned the humanitarian support the European Union is giving, which is quite impressive I have to say. I mentioned the support we give to the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] mission which constitutes basically the backbone of the mission itself.
We continue to work on the political track very much. Obviously, our PSC [Political and Security Committee] ambassadors were already visiting once; I think they would consider with pleasure the idea of doing another visit. This time - for a lack of time, I have to be tomorrow morning in Strasbourg - my visit has to be relatively short, too short, I would have like to stay more. I would have considered going to Donbass during this visit; I will do it next time I come.
Our primary focus is on the political and diplomatic track. I know all the efforts that were done, starting with the Normandy format, to try to move forward the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. The discussions on the potential UN mission are ongoing in the UN context. Obviously we are as the European Union working with and through our Member States in that context, and obviously, with our partners internationally, to make sure that any move can be as effective as possible and aimed at the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. As I mentioned, this is the purpose we have, to restore peace, but first and foremost the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
On the financial assistance, conditions will be discussed; our teams are currently already discussing them. So, it is a good rule of good friends not to share with the press ongoing talks we have bilaterally. For sure, elements that have been relevant in previous financial assistance packages might be relevant also for the future. But what I can say is that we are aiming at a disbursement of the first tranche that could happen already before the end of this year, so that things happen quickly and smoothly. Obviously, while we are discussing the conditions, in general terms, there is a high attention in the European Union on progress made on the anti-corruption efforts in the country and I would imagine that this would continue to be a key element in our common work.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152416