President Poroshenko: ‘I hope the Dutch people will make a wise decision’
The association agreement between the EU and Ukraine is highly important for peace in Ukraine, and it is therefore essential that Europe weathers these difficult times. These were the words of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on 27 November during his Europe Lecture at Leiden University.
The Europe Lecture by Poroshenko, Ukraine-the Netherlands: European stability through European values, focused on the Russian-Ukrainian war and the coming Dutch referendum on the association agreement. Poroshenko emphasised the importance of the agreement: ‘For us, it’s not about EU membership. By working together with the EU, Ukraine will introduce important reforms and will become a better nation. Then there will be no need for military intervention to liberate the Crimea; the Crimea will see that Ukraine is a successful country, where freedom and democracy are important values. It shouldn’t be Moscow that decides who represents the country; it should be the people of Ukraine.’
Although he indicated that the agreement would not stand or fall with the outcome of the referendum, Poroshenko did make the point that he believes a Dutch ‘Yes’ is important. Astutely, he reminded his listeners of the Dutch trading spirit, because, in Poroshenko’s opinion, in economic terms the Netherlands will benefit more than any other country from the association agreement. Smiling, he issued an invitation to the Netherlands: 'The Russian presence in the economy of Ukraine has diminished and the Netherlands is more than welcome to fill that gap.’ And then, on a more serious note: ‘I hope the people of the Netherlands will make a wise decision.’
The audience was not left in any doubt that they were being addressed by a president at war. Poroshenko’s tone was combative and he made no bones of Russia’s intentions, saying that Russia treats European values as nothing more than a nuisance: ‘The West wants a circle of trust; Russia wants a circle of influence.’ He also urged his audience not to fall into the trap of believing Russian propaganda. ‘Let me tell you quite clearly, we have a situation where Russian soldiers under Russian flags are fighting Ukrainians on Ukrainian soil. Any other interpretation is pure spin.’
President Poroshenko also referred to the tragic loss of the MH17 aircraft, an event that binds Ukraine and the Netherlands: ‘I called Mark Rutte as soon as I heard the news and proposed that the country that had been hardest hit by this tragedy should lead the enquiry.’ For Poroshenko it is clear that in this disaster, too, Russia was the perpetrator: ‘The simple fact that Russia, in spite of strong evidence from the commission of enquiry, still keeps coming up with other explanations, indicates that the country is living in an alternative universe.'
Poroshenko delivered the Europe Lecture at the request of Leiden University’s Europe Institute. This annual lecture traditionally addresses critical developments within Europe. Rick Lawson, Dean of the Faculty of Law, reminded the Ukrainian president that he was on historic ground. After a protest lecture by Professor Cleveringa in World War II, the Nazis closed down the University. Lawson: ‘That was the point when we realised that this University has to be a place where freedom always triumphs. That same principle applies to our continent of Europe.’