Russia warned it might breach Helsinki accord

EU rejects Yanukovich suggestion of tripartite agreement to include Russia

The European Union yesterday issued a stark warning to Russia that it was in danger of breaching the Helsinki Accords over its treatment of Ukraine, as the Eastern Partnership summit ended without agreement on the former Soviet republic.

At the end of the two-day summit, which saw Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich become increasingly isolated, European Council head Herman Van Rompuy said any Russian actions that influenced Europe's so-called eastern partners "could be in breach of the Helsinki principles of the OSCE which commit to respect each other's right to freely define and conduct as it wishes its relations with other states in accordance with international law".

The politically binding agreement, signed during the Cold War, outlines a set of principles which guides international relations, including the duty to respect the sovereignty of individual countries and national self-determination.

Speaking at the end of the summit, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso echoed his colleague's warning, rejecting Ukraine's calls for a trilateral agreement between Ukraine, the EU and Russia.


“This is not acceptable. We respect the sovereignty of all countries in the world . . . When we make a bilateral deal we don’t need a trilateral agreement,” the head of the EU’s executive arm said, adding “the times of limited sovereignty are over in Europe” ,

The next biannual Russia-EU summit is scheduled for January in Brussels. It will be the first high-level diplomatic meeting between the two sides since Ukraine withdrew from an association agreement with the EU under strong pressure from Russia.

Despite assurances from the EU yesterday that the door remained open to Ukraine, its president Viktor Yanukovich made clear to EU leaders at a dinner on Thursday night that more incentives were needed to consider signing the association deal, sources said.

"Yanukovich spoke at length about the country's difficult economic situation. The message from Angela Merkel was that, if it was a question of needing more money, that is not the way the EU operates," said one official who was at the dinner.

Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre of European Reform, said Brussels had made it clear that the association agreement, as it stood, was not negotiable.

“The EU has made it clear that it is going to keep the door open – there was no suggestion that there was a deadline for the accord. What it has made absolutely clear, however, is that the EU is not prepared to pay Ukraine to make the required reforms, or that a trilateral conversation between the EU, Ukraine and Russia is what’s needed.”

Irish representatives
Speaking in Vilnius yesterday, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald, who along with Minister for European Affairs Paschal Donohoe represented the Government, said developments over the last few weeks had been a learning process.

“It was agreed that there is a need for a new kind of partnership with Russia, one that is not about old-style power politics, but more about partnerships. At the same time there have to be democratic parameters around it. There is a strong message that countries cannot be pressurised and must be free to make their own decisions.”

Mr Donohoe, who travels to Ukraine next week for an OSCE ministerial council meeting, said it was "a huge disappointment" that an agreement was not signed with Ukraine. While welcoming the initialling of agreements with Moldova and Georgia, he said it was important that progress was made on the next phase of the process for the two.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent