BRUSSELS -- The new EU Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn says it is "crystal clear" there won't be a reduction in European Union sanctions on Russia, and that the recent events in eastern Ukraine instead can prompt Brussels to pile further pressure on Moscow.
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Hahn said that the EU had begun discussing whether it was time to ease the sanctions after the September 5 Minsk protocol and cease-fire but that recent developments in eastern Ukraine have forced a reconsideration.
Hahn hinted that some in the EU would even press for further sanctions.
He said a donors' conference for Ukraine that the EU was planning to host this year will take place in 2015 instead as Brussels is waiting for a clear strategy on where the investment should be directed, and no medium- and long-term development plan has been presented by Kyiv so far.
Ukraine in June signed a key trade and economic relations portion of an Association Agreement with the European Union, which provides for the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Area (DCFTA) and closer economic integration.
However, the implementation of the trade part of the agreement has been delayed until January 2016 apparently after pressure from Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.
In his interview with RFE/RL, Hahn dismissed claims about Russian-induced modifications to DCFTA. He said the delay is needed "because it is necessary to prepare for instance the [Ukrainian] business sector but that is what we have to do the next year, nothing else.”
When asked what sort of relationship he wants to have developed with Ukraine when he leaves office in 2019, the commissioner noted that he favors the strategy set out by the President Petro Poroshenko about submitting an EU application in 2020 to join the bloc.
"I think this is a very reasonable approach which we will certainly accompany and support," said Hahn.
The commissioner also said that he intends to visit Ukraine before Christmas, but the date and his exact itinerary are still to be determined.
Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.