European Council president Donald Tusk has ruled out sending military aid to Ukraine despite Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s pleas for the EU and UN to deploy peacekeepers in a meeting in Kiev on Monday.
President Poroshenko had previously called on the EU to provide a stronger peacekeeping force along his country’s border with Russia as well as breakaway regions Donetsk and Luhansk, stating the current Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission has faced “great difficulty performing its duties” in the buffer zone.
The aim of the peacekeepers would be to enforce the Minsk 2 agreement, which was signed between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebel leaders in the Belarusian capital on Feb. 15.
However, speaking after the meeting, Tusk said any peacekeeping force sent to Ukraine could only be a “civilian mission” and not a military one.
“We know the expectations of the Ukrainian side on the issues,” Tusk said. “It will not be easy but we will look into it.”
Tusk also said the EU is “concerned about reports of weapons still entering eastern Ukraine," after OSCE observers reported sightings of heavy arms moving in rebel-held areas around the city of Mariupol.
The movement of heavy weapons, spotted by the monitoring body’s surveillance drones, suggests pro-Russian rebels have not withdrawn such military equipment from the frontline in accordance with the Minsk 2 agreement.
The OSCE mentioned the sightings as its Special Monitoring Mission gave an account of “intense shelling” between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists in the village of Shyrokyne, near Mariupol, on Sunday.
Tusk, however, said OSCE observers were "not able to verify a withdrawal of heavy weaponry."
Over 6,000 people have been killed since fighting broke out in the region last year, following the deposing of pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country following pro-EU protests in Kiev.
The crisis led to the autonomous government in Crimea, which is dominated by ethnic Russians, to declare independence from Ukraine and eventually be annexed by Russia following a referendum.
Western nations have since punished Russia by enforcing crippling economic sanctions, which have contributed towards the country’s recession and led to the devaluation of its currency.
The sanctions may be lifted if Russia if the Minsk 2 agreement holds up.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was also in attendance during the meeting between Tusk and Poroshenko, their first since Poroshenko met with EU leaders to sign an Association Agreement last June.
The economic and political pact, which seeks reform on the Ukrainian economy in order to root out corruption, unsustainable debts and inflation, was described at the time by Poroshenko as Ukraine's "first but most decisive step" towards the EU membership.
However, the EU agreed to delay the implementation of the plan until January 2016, amid Russian concerns that the deal may result in cheap goods from Ukraine affecting the Russian market.
Speaking on the deal, Juncker rejected delaying it any further, saying “If we keep postponing and postponing and postponing, we will never reach an end.”
During the meeting, Juncker also complained that the living conditions in Ukraine were “very difficult,” as he pledged to provide financial help to assist the country through its “painful” reform process in addition to a further €70 million for the maintenance of the Chernobyl nuclear site.
While Poroshenko thanked the EU officials for a new €1.8 billion balance of payments loan, he brushed off claims Ukraine was acting too slowly with respect to economic reforms.
“In current conditions we just ask for one thing: fair assessment of the Ukraine’s team actions,” Poroshenko told reporters. “The notion that Ukraine is lagging behind with the reforms isn’t necessarily fair and not necessarily true.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, an EU official said Brussels is accusing Ukraine of not doing its “homework” on the reforms.
The official also said Juncker gave Poroshenko a summary of changes Ukraine has to fulfill in order for talks to be successful, including the completion of biometric passports, the increasing of border security and a crackdown on organised crime.
Juncker did however acknowledge Ukraine’s recent steps in appointing new head of an anticorruption task force, increasing powers of local governments over budgets, and reforms made with respect to the country’s energy sector.
Although Ukraine has been moving closer to the EU since Poroshenko took office last year, Juncker said the EU would not be considering Ukrainian membership of the bloc in the foreseeable future.