The European Union needs a long-term strategy on Russia instead of simply reacting to events, European Council President Donald Tusk said at the close of a meeting of EU government leaders that discussed Ukraine.
“Russia is our strategic problem, not Ukraine,” Tusk, emerging from his chairing his first European Council meeting as the body’s president, told reporters.
“The biggest challenge is Russia’s approach not only to Ukraine but also to Europe,” he said.
“We need a plan for years… we’re not too optimistic, we have to be realistic,” Tusk said.
For more than a year now – from Maidan to the Minsk ceasefire and beyond – the European Council’s response has been event-driven, he said.
The situation in Ukraine remains dramatic and dynamic, and requires an immediate response.
“That’s why we have just discussed giving financial support to Ukraine. We are sending a strong signal on our readiness to do so,” Tusk said.
Conclusions adopted by the December 18 European Council meeting say: “Following the (European) Commission´s second disbursement in December of 500 million euro in macro-financial assistance, the EU and its member states stand ready to further facilitate and support Ukraine’s reform process, together with other donors and in line with IMF conditionality.
“The European Council welcomes the Commission’s readiness to increase humanitarian aid to the suffering people in Ukraine.”
Tusk said that the meeting had discussed Russia’s policy towards its neighbours and the EU’s strategic response.
Leaders had shared their analysis of the situation, which is the basis for a common understanding of the challenge ahead. They would return to this next March, he said.
“It is obvious that we will not find a long-perspective solution for Ukraine without an adequate, consistent and a united European strategy towards Russia.
“Equally, a modern, safe and independent Ukraine is the most important element of this strategy.
“Our approach must be in line with our ambitions and potential. We must go beyond being reactive and defensive. As Europeans, we must regain our self-confidence and realise our own strengths,” Tusk said.
In its conclusions, the European Council congratulated Ukraine on its new government and welcomed that government’s determination to carry out political and economic reforms.
The situation in eastern Ukraine remains a strong concern, the European Council said.
“The Union’s policy of not recognising the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol was further tightened today,” the document said, referring to stepped-up sanctions.
“The EU will stay the course; the European Council is ready to take further steps if necessary. ”
All parties, including Russia, should actively engage in and implement fully the Minsk
agreements, the EU leaders said, also calling for unhindered access to the crash site of MH17 in the interest of the ongoing investigations.