The new head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, (Ambassador for want of a better analogy), Jan Tombinski, seems to be doing his very best to pour oil on the somewhat choppy waters between Ukraine and the EU in efforts to smooth matters between the two sides to some degree.
He recently gave a press conference stating that he did not see any censorship in Ukraine whatsoever. “Considering what I have seen in here, I can say that there is no censorship and that there is complete freedom of self-expression in Ukraine.” Music to the ears of the current government who have consistently denied censorship and denying freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
He did however qualify that comments by stating “Of course you can say whatever you want on YouTube. But that is not the same as access to state television and other media”.
In short, you can say and express yourself as you like in Ukraine, but there is a good chance that it would be like doing so to an almost empty auditorium if you struggle getting access to main stream media time.
Nevertheless, the authorities will surely point Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and numerous other NGOs and civil liberties groups to that statement in the future – together with the Freedom House ranking of Ukraine as “Free” with regards to its Internet status.
No matter how it is spun, a serious and highly placed EU diplomat has stated there is no censorship – on the record – and that will please the authorities.
He also added that the Ukrainian media seems far more intent of agitating the population than in forming its opinions – a necessary swipe at the media to be quite honest and a very true statement when time is taken to take a step back and look at what the Ukrainian media actually does (compared to what it should be doing) and how it achieves it.
Mr Tombinski also stated that sanctions against Ukraine were not the way to go. To be honest I wasn’t aware of any serious threats of sanctions against Ukraine or against any Ukrainians individually. Yes there have been suggestions from the opposition and a few EU MEPs that sanctions should be considered for certain Ukrainians in the government and judiciary over Ms Tymoshenko, but to be quite honest I am not aware of any serious traction within the EU that would make such suggestions a reality. Certainly no contacts within Brussels I have indicate there is much traction as yet.
Yet more good news for the authorities and quite contrary to the statements issued by certain bodies within the US recently.
Lastly, it seems Mr Tombinski sees some movement, however glacial, with regards to the DCFTA and AA between the EU and Ukraine. Now we are not talking about signing or ratification, we are talking about the technicalities of the AA document. These technicalities should be completed and approved by both sides possibly by the end of November, but certainly by the year end.
Again something that would appear to give the current authorities the appearance that slow as progress may be, it has not completely stopped – yet.
Quite a press conference 12 days before the parliamentary elections in Ukraine when it comes to putting some international wind (no matter how little) into the sails of the current government, with some favourable EU comments for the media as a bonus.
So why and why now?
Why, well if that is the opinion of Mr Tombrinski then that is his opinion and he has a right and a duty to express it.
I happen to agree with him over his comments about freedom of expression and the Ukrainian media generally speaking.
I also agree that sanctions are simply not warranted at the present time. That may change in the future as far as some individuals are concerned, but for now it is too soon to consider them seriously.
I know nothing of the technicalities still to be settled within the AA between the EU and Ukraine, but if there is still progress, then very good.
But why now? Why make such statements 12 days before the parliamentary elections? (They were made on 16th October).
Granted, he could not have made such statements much earlier as he has not been in post very long and there needs to be time to assess the situation on the ground, rather than just accepting the oft visceral reporting written in the media – which as he points out is not doing its job particularly well.
Could and should his statements have been left until after the elections?
If not, why not?
Having been in and around diplomatic circles for so long, I cannot to fail to take notice of something so basic as timing.
A calming of waters between the EU and Ukraine in the realisation that the current government will continue to hold power after the elections?