MEPs called for a strong response to Russia on 12 March in a debate over its military involvement in Ukraine. They also rejected the upcoming referendum on independence in Crimea, which they saw as manipulated and contrary to international and Ukrainian law. The EU should also support Ukraine and continue to work towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Dimitris Kourkoulas, Greek deputy foreign minister responsible for European affairs, spoke on behalf of the Council. He called the situation in Ukraine “the most serious crisis in Europe in recent years”. He stressed that the priority should be to find a peaceful solution that fully respects international law. “The European Union is ready to help the Ukrainian people on an economic, financial and technical level," he said.
José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, called the situation in Ukraine a test for the European Union, which would have geopolitical consequences for our countries. He said Ukraine should not become a border between neighbours who no longer talk.
José Ignacio Salafranca, a Spanish member of the EPP group, said: “We have to clearly reject the referendum that will be held in Crimea: it is illegitimate, it is illegal." He quoted former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in saying that ”Russia will go as far as they are allowed to go” and called for firm action, as “otherwise the conflict will become unavoidable”.
Hannes Swoboda, the Austrian chair of the S&D group, said: “Let me be very clear, this is not a legitimate referendum. All the referendums we saw in the past have been totally different. They were done on a legal basis, with international observers, no military pressure on the national assembly.” He said we should make clear to Russia that we cannot accept this referendum.
Underlining that the referendum in Crimea would lead to an illegal annexation by Russia, Hans van Baalen, a Dutch member of the ALDE group, demanded sanctions. “We have to have serious sanctions that will hurt Russia,” he said, wondering if the Council was ready to follow suit.
Rebecca Harms, the German co-chair of the Green group, said it was not true that the EU was powerless, underlining that 45% of Russia's trade is with the European Union. "We don't need to find ourselves in some kind of military conflict. Make it clear to Russia, if they want to isolate themselves, then that is what is going to happen."
Ryszard Antoni Legutko, a Polish member of the ECR group, pointed out that there was not much to expect from Europe on the Ukraine issue: "The EU has neither instruments, no will, nor a common foreign policy for that matter.”
Nikola Vuljanić, a Croatian member of the GUE/NGL group, warned that not supporting the Ukrainian people strongly can only contribute to the escalation. “The European Union is talking about strong sanctions but only soft constraints are imposed," he said.
Jacek Olgierd Kurski, a Polish member of the EFD group, said: "Putin has said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the biggest tragedy of the 20th century. He is now rebuilding the empire, first Georgia, now Ukraine.”
Andreas Mölzer, a non-attached member from Austria, said that if the EU wanted to avoid a permanent flashpoint, we would have to work with everyone. Anything is better than a civil war, he said.