Waiting for the EU to take action

A visitor from abroad to the Maidan, the central square of Kiev which has become a symbol of resistance against oppression and government corruption, will be struck by the number of EU flags. They are dotted all around the square, and adorn the makeshift monuments to those several dozen citizens who tragically died during the turmoil last February. Indeed the flags appear all over the capital city, even jutting out of the windows of traffic police cars alongside the Ukraine blue and yellow flag.

It is a sign of the great hopes that Ukraine places in the European Union, and the expectations that the EU will live up to its commitments of support for the country. Will the EU be capable of fulfilling these hopes and the many promises that have been made to the Ukraine people, particularly following the ouster of the former corrupt President who fled in disgrace last February?

The question is unfortunately a legitimate one. When one witnesses the glacial pace of the EU's reaction to the horrendous crime committed with the downing of the Malaysian Airliner with almost 300 passengers, most of them EU citizens, the sense of frustration felt across European public opinion is understandable. It is also a frustration keenly felt by ordinary citizens in Kiev. Whether it is the taxi man, the hotel receptionist or the political analyst , the reaction is the same - where is Europe at this moment of greatest need? Why is it taking so long to decide on further sanctions against Russia? This is the time when the EU needs to send an unequivocal message to the Russian authorities and to its surrogates in Eastern Ukraine that it will no longer tolerate this lawlessness and the brazen killing of innocent victims. Unfortunately the EU's indecisiveness only serves to embolden Putin and his cronies.

The sense of vulnerability felt by the people of Kiev and further afield is likely to increase now that the Ukrainian interim Prime Minister has resigned, and the uncertainty this creates for the country as it prepares for general elections in the autumn. It is no wonder that the Maidan is still scattered with piles of paving stones and rubber tires as if to ward off any potential unrest that could occur. Dissatisfaction still runs deep in the society not just with the violent situation in the east, but also with the power wielded by the oligarchs and the difficult challenge of promoting much needed reforms at every level of governance in the country.

A national dialogue process across the country remains urgent in order to deal with the much needed reforms, both legislative and constitutional, relating to governance, economic opportunities, language rights as well as devolved administration. Even as the violence continues in the east, some effort must be made to initiate a dialogue process involving all sectors of society. While it is the people of Ukraine alone that must determine the country's future, the international community must be there to facilitate the process and offer encouragement. It is with this in mind that a distinguished group of representatives from Ireland and Northern Ireland were in Kiev this week presenting the Northern Ireland peace process. While each conflict situation is unique, nevertheless there are some universal principles reflected in the Northern Ireland process that can provide valuable guidance for the situation in Ukraine.

The only international actor on the ground since its deployment last March is the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which includes as part of its mandate the facilitation of dialogue on the ground. It should be commended for what it has managed to achieve so far despite an extremely tense environment with several of its members taken hostage for several weeks by the Russian backed militants in eastern Ukraine. Its mandate has now been extended for a further six months, until March 2015. In addition, a special OSCE Observer Mission is being deployed at two key checkpoints (Donetsk and Gukovo) on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Meanwhile whatever action the EU takes on further sanctions, it will have to work much harder to demonstrate that it has not only the willingness but also the capacity to take decisive action when it is most needed. This is not the time for prevarication or selfish business interests of individual member countries preventing robust action.