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MEP Sandra Kalniete: “To join the EU, Ukraine needs persistence, patience, and determination”

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Russia is interested in a frozen conflict in Donbas so it can have a say in Ukraine’s internal politics, and President Zelensky genuinely seeks to resolve the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, says Sandra Kalniete, Latvian MEP, Vice-Chair of European People’s Party Group, and member of the EU-Ukraine delegation at the European Parliament. In an interview with Natalia Richardson of Promote Ukraine, Mrs Kalniete noted that the situation in Donbas should not be an obstacle for Ukraine’s European aspirations. The Latvian MEP wholeheartedly supports the idea of Kyiv joining the European Union, but cannot set any date – because Ukraine’s EU membership depends on the efforts of the Ukrainian side and the geopolitical situation.

Volodymyr Zelensky has been President of Ukraine for more than one year. What do you think of this year – was it success for him and for Ukraine, or a failure?

This is very difficult to answer because the normal development of every country in the world was interrupted by the pandemic. That’s why it is very hard to say whether it was a success or not. Since March nothing has functioned normally and in many countries unemployment increases, and the GDP falls. I appreciate that President Zelensky really applies efforts to find a new way to resolve the current crisis in Donbas. It is so obvious that the Minsk process does not work, it stagnates. I would not say that all of his proposals are very successful, because to have a successful proposal, one should also have a partner who supports and accepts this proposal, and Russia is not really willing to resolve the crisis caused by Russian mercenaries in Donbas.

Everybody speaks about Russia’s aggression in Donbas. We know that the European Union is worried about it, but what can the EU do to try to resolve the issue?

This is a million-dollar question. There are so many political analysts and leaders of our countries who are unable to propose a solution which is acceptable for Russia. It is really a very difficult situation. I am afraid it will be yet another frozen conflict and for years Ukraine and also Europe will be obliged to live with that, like we are living with occupied territories of Georgia and Moldova. That is something we can try to resolve by applying international pressure and with Ukraine to try to influence the Kremlin. However, I am rather pessimistic, as I believe they have the plan, they need that conflict to be frozen to have a say in Ukraine’s internal politics.

At the same time, Ukraine has strong European aspirations. Do you think that Ukraine can move towards the European Union even with this conflict on its territory? Is it compatible with its aspirations to join the EU?

It must be compatible, because the move towards the European Union is a different process which is needed for the Ukrainian nation. In this regard reforms would have a specific goal and Ukraine should vigilantly wait for the right moment for its entry. You never know how the situation can change geopolitically. It really depends on Ukrainians themselves, how they prepare themselves. I can compare it with what we did in Latvia. For us joining NATO was like for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. But we did our utmost to be ready for whenever that opportunity would come. As soon it did we immediately got our foot in the door. And now we are in NATO. This is something that I wish for the Ukrainian nation: persistence, also readiness to sacrifice what is needed for that absolutely superior goal, because without it is not achievable as the European Union is going through a rather difficult period itself. For instance, look at the Western Balkans. I was at the Thessaloniki summit in 2003 when the European Union promised European future to the Western Balkans. They are still not in. Therefore, you need persistence, patience, and determination.

According to a recent poll, 60 percent of Ukrainians support Ukraine’s membership perspective in the European Union. People in France and Germany are not so enthusiastic about the EU. What would you say to Ukrainians that are in favour of the EU membership? Are they too optimistic? Is it realistic for Kyiv to join the EU in the foreseeable future?

When you were speaking about France and Germany and some other countries who are not as euro optimistic as Ukraine, there is a big difference: they are in, they can afford to be pessimistic, critical, or whatever. But since Ukraine is in a waiting room, it is quite natural that 60 percent support its entry into the Union. But it takes time, a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice, and also a lot of determination. And for the foreseeable future, it is all in the hands of Ukrainians.

Do you personally believe that Ukraine will join the European Union?

I support Ukraine’s membership wholeheartedly and I believe it will happen because many other nations who are now in the Union had the same experience as Ukrainians. And they are your best friends. But as I said, it will take time.

So you cannot set a date?

That would be preposterous. It would be also irresponsible if I, being a seasoned and experienced politician, would say that Ukraine will join the EU in Year X. That would be completely irresponsible because we are living in a geopolitically changeable world.

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