Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answer to a question by TASS First Deputy General Director Mikhail Gusman, Baku, April 7, 2016
Question: The results of the referendum held in the Netherlands regarding the attitude of the Dutch people towards Ukraine’s association with the EU were released a few hours ago. As can be seen from the voting results, not exit polls, the referendum was declared valid with 32 percent of Dutch voters taking part in it, and over 60 percent voting against Ukraine’s association with the EU. Were such results expected? What’s your take on them? As far as I understand, it’s a legal impasse for the Netherlands?
Sergey Lavrov: This is an internal matter for the Netherlands. The referendum is a mechanism of democracy. The Netherlands organised it in accordance with its laws, when there was a certain number of signatures of Dutch citizens who wanted to hold such a referendum. The results of the referendum are for the Dutch Government to ponder. As I understand it, it’s a consultative non-binding referendum. I watched my colleague from the Netherlands speak today, and he said that the Government will take its results into account in its work, and will draw conclusions in regard to the next steps in its relations with the EU and Ukraine. We do not interfere in that process.
When the referendum was being prepared, we were blamed for trying to convince the Dutch people to vote against the association, whereas, in fact, there was a huge campaign by the official Kiev authorities and many Western patrons of the Ukrainian Government. They campaigned hard among voters. We stayed away from this, as we are convinced that we should not interfere in the processes that are referred to as democratic. So we have what we have. I’m not sure what the European Union will do next. It is not our area of responsibility.
We have always practiced a straightforward approach towards the ties between our neighbours and the EU. We welcome all this. Each country expands its social, economic and other contacts with its foreign partners based on its interests. The only thing that we talked about is that when the arrangements with third countries affect the commitments that our neighbour Ukraine has with regard to Russia, it is necessary to harmonise certain issues. This was the case when Ukraine drafted the Association Agreement and former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych saw that the obligations under the CIS free trade zone came into conflict with some of the obligations that Ukraine would have to take upon signing the Association Agreement.
In order to reconcile those obligations and remove these contradictions, he took a break, which immediately led to an attempt at a coup, which was successful. Clearly, it was just an excuse, and many speculated that Yanukovych had allegedly betrayed European ideals and thwarted the dream of the Ukrainian people. It was a case of demagogy, and it was clear to all.
However, later the new head of Ukraine, Petr Poroshenko, together with the Germans, the French, and senior officials of the European Commission, agreed with us that there must be a special process seeking to harmonise Ukraine’s obligations in the CIS free trade zone, and to identify what it needs to do as it opens its markets to EU goods. Unfortunately, these agreements fizzled out. Our approach to that is philosophical. We have introduced protective measures that we are entitled to use under the WTO, when our trade relations with Ukraine were subjected to risks after Ukraine and the European Union took unapproved decisions. Our ultimate goal is to promote the idea of a pan-European economic, social and humanitarian space.
Last autumn, the Eurasian Economic Commission sent a proposal to the European Commission through the EAEU Board. Unfortunately, the answer came back more than four months later, but it did nevertheless, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying that he supports the idea of developing contacts between the Eurasian Economic Union and European Union. He has yet to make an appropriate decision. So far, things have remained unclear, but he supports the idea in general. We stay sticking to it. I think that we can deal with the issues at hand in a manner that is beneficial for all participants as we harmonise the integration processes in Western Europe and the Eurasian space.