Three years have gone by since the referendum on the Ukrainian European Association Agreement failed and 3 weeks have passed since the Netherlands voted in favor of restoring Russia’s full rights in the Council of Europe. Despite these disappointments, Ukraine and The Kingdom of the Netherlands are bound by much more and continue to work towards cooperation for mutual gain.
In the calm district of Podil in Kyiv, Hromadske discusses with Dutch ambassador to Ukraine, Ed Hoeks, the state of the five year investigation of the downing of MH17, the type of position from the Netherlands we can expect when Russian and Ukrainian interests are unaligned, and what Dutch investors want to see in Ukraine.
“Our relations with Russia are not business as usual,” Hoeks said.
24 hours and seven days a week is how Hoeks describes how the MH17 investigative team works. Excellent cooperation between Ukrainian authorities and the investigative team ease the tough job, but nonetheless one critical aspect remains unchanged.
Expecting Russia to cooperate and comply with the UN Security Council Resolution 2166 has not gone as planned. The resolution asking member states to provide any requested assistance to civil and criminal investigations continues to be ignored despite calls from top leaders. Mr. Hoeks recalls when Dutch Foreign Minister, Stef Blok, spoke to Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov and made it “very clear,” that Russia was expected to comply with the resolution.
Nonetheless, the investigation brought to light four suspects and Mr. Hoeks expects to find even more people involved in the downing of MH17. But the question for Mr. Hoeks remains, “What more can the Netherlands do than this criminal investigation?”
Already, the Netherlands is conducting three different types of investigations. The first is done by the Dutch prosecutor general and works independently. The second is done by the joint investigative team and the third is a state complaint from the Netherlands filed in Vienna. But, the investigation is not over and the Netherlands is seeking ways to do more.
Despite the “excellent” cooperation between the Netherlands and Ukraine in the MH17 case, other scenarios pit Ukraine against the Netherlands. Just as the failure of the 2016 referendum on the Ukrainian European Association Agreement had disappointed so many Ukrainians, most recently, the decision of the Netherlands to vote in favor of allowing Russia to once again become a full member of the Council of Europe disillusioned many Ukrainians.
“Our relations with Russia are not business as usual,” Hoeks assures Hromadske.“We think that Crimea and Donbas belong to Ukraine. We also think that Russia has played a very negative role in the downing of MH17, that is why we have the criminal investigation.”
Nonetheless, Ukrainians remember the “painful chapter” in bilateral relations after the Ukrainian Association Agreement Referendum failed. In addition to the most recent decision at the Council of Europe. To this Mr. Hoeks reasons that each decision was not against Ukraine.
“It was not purely against Ukraine, it was against Brussels, against bureaucracy, against European bureaucracy and also maybe even against our government of that time,” rations Mr. Hoeks on the basis of the failure of the Association Agreement referendum.
In terms of the return of Russia as a full member to the Council of Europe, Mr. Hoeks explains that Russians have a right to Human Rights courts and that Russia should abide by the rules of the Council. Furthering his argument, Mr. Hoeks brings up the statistical analysis compiled that showed that in fact, Russia, at least 50 percent of the time, considered cases brought forward in the framework of the Council of Europe as valid.
Putting it all in the past, Mr. Hoeks assures that, “At this moment, the Netherlands is welcoming and also supporting the ambition of Ukraine to its Euro Atlantic integration,” and that, “Relations are developing in a very positive way.”
Nonetheless, investments from the Netherlands remain low and despite reforms having come a long way, Ukraine still has a lot of “homework.” Mr. Hoeks believes that with, “Rule of law, accountability, transparency and predictability,” the investment culture will shift positively.
Mr. Hoeks understands that foreign investment helps the economy grow and likewise the reform process, political stability, and long term macroeconomic stability. However, without sufficient investment security and the slow process of land, among other reforms, it is difficult for Dutch and other international investors, to invest in the Ukrainian economy.
For Mr. Hoeks, reforms must be continued, strengthened, but most importantly, they must be implemented. Without a doubt the Netherlands is a partner in reform, but whether or not a business partnership will blossom highly depends on the success of each of those reforms.