Strasbourg, 23 October 2018
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Thank you Madame Chair.
I would like to thank the Parliament for keeping a strong focus on the security situation around the Black Sea, after the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
We do not and we will not recognise the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula to the Russian Federation. It is first and foremost a matter of principles and values – principles and values that all European nations agreed in Helsinki in 1975.
We all agreed to the basic principle that our frontiers cannot be changed by military force. This is a principle, this is a value, on which our common living together is based. This is also a fundamental interest of all Europeans, because this is the foundation of peace and security on our European continent. When this principle is violated – as it has been – we are all less secure in our continent.
The events in the Sea of Azov are a demonstration of this: when the basic rules of peaceful coexistence are disregarded, instability and tensions are bound to rise. The construction of the Kerch Bridge between the Crimean peninsula and the Russian Federation took place without Ukraine's consent, and it constitutes another violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. On top of that, the bridge hinders the passage of vessels to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea.
Six months ago, Russia started to apply a new inspection regime for cargo vessels coming from Ukraine's ports in the Azov Sea, or heading towards them. These inspections lead to long delays, which have increased dramatically over the past months. This has direct consequences on shipping costs, not only for Ukrainian exporters, but also for vessels flying a European Union Member State's flag. So far, more than 200 vessels under both Ukrainian and international flags have been affected by these controls by Russia, which in some cases lasted several days.
Even more worrying, tougher controls on naval traffic in the strait have gone in parallel with the militarisation of the Azov Sea. Russia has recently started deploying military vessels to the area in significant numbers, and Ukraine has partially responded with an increased military presence.
Let me recall that the Azov Sea used to be almost fully demilitarised, and that Ukraine and Russia have signed a cooperation agreement "on the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait". This agreement implies that disputes between the parties are to be resolved through consultations and negotiations. We appreciate that Ukraine is seeking justice in international courts, such as the ongoing case under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
When international law is violated, when Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity are violated, the European Union stands by the people of Ukraine. We immediately condemned the construction of the Kerch Bridge without Ukraine's consent. In July, the Council added six entities involved in the construction of the [Kerch] Bridge to the list of those subject to restrictive measures over actions that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
A militarisation of the Azov Sea is in no-one's interest, and it can only destabilise the delicate security situation in the wider Black Sea region.
Let me remind us all that the Black Sea is a European sea, and we do not want to witness yet another military build-up in our immediate region. We will continue to push for the respect of international law and conventions, and to support Ukraine in these challenging circumstances. I am sure that I can count on the support of this [European] Parliament in this work we are doing.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I162142
Thank you, Madame Chair.
First of all let me say that I would like to thank the SEDE Committee [European Parliament Committee on Security and Defence] and all its members and Anna Elzbieta Fotyga [Chair of the SEDE Committee] for the work done in this regard, the visits done and also the previous exchange of views we had, not with me personally, but our services on the 11 October and that has somehow prepared, I think, this plenary and the work we are constantly doing on this issue.
Keeping the focus on this is essential to me for different reasons. You all mentioned them. First of all, for our principles and values. Secondly, for Ukraine's sovereignty but also for the economy - both of Ukraine and of the European Union, as all of you have underlined, and also for our collective security. So I think we have many good reasons for keeping a close eye on what is happening in the Azov Sea and continue to react appropriately and in a united manner and for this the support of this Parliament will continue to be key.
And let me also assure you that part of the next EU-Ukraine Association Council that I will chair in a couple of months from now, together, I believe, with the Ukrainian Prime Minister will be also dedicated to how to address in the best possible manner this issue and what kind of support the European Union can give to Ukraine in this context which is - among other issues on which we are supporting Ukraine - also extremely important.
I would like them to quickly touch upon a couple of things that were raised, probably not all of them but a couple of them. Some of you referred to the need to uphold the international principles, including the international courts and legislation. And as I said in the beginning we appreciate that Ukraine is seeking justice in the international courts. You know that there is an ongoing case under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, so we trust the international courts and in this case UNCLOS [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] as we always do, upholding the international jurisdictions.
Second point - on the sanctions, as I mentioned before, we included new persons in our sanctions list for the construction of the bridge. Some of you referred to the implementation of these sanctions. You know very well, it is for the European Council at unanimity to adopt the sanctions and the measures but then it is for Member States to monitor the implementation of these sanctions and to take appropriate measures, if needed.
Obviously, we have our own elements as a Commission to push and monitor this monitoring of the implementation from the Member States. But this is very much an issue that lies in their hands.
We will continue to assess the situation and the developments in the Azov Sea. We will continue to count on the support of this Parliament and all the relevant Committees to continue to build a united work and policy in this respect and continue to work with our Ukrainian friends to invest in their resilience as much as we can.
Thank you very much.