Dear Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Dear President of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Dear members of the Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Above all, allow me to congratulate sincerely Ms Stella Kyriakides with her election at a high position of President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
I am glad that this event has practically coincided with my visit to the Assembly.
Such symbolic junctures do not happen that frequently.
Yet, when they happen, they are always accurate and timely.
Today is exactly the case.
It is because I could personally wish you inspiration, energy and success in achieving a noble mission, set by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as in protecting the principles, upon which this Assembly is founded.
There is no place for compromises in these matters!
Especially with those, who by all means intent to compromise the universal values and foundations, upon which we build our cooperation and our societies.
I would also like to express words of my gratitude for the invitation to address this distinguished Assembly.
It is a true honor for me.
As your former colleague in the Assembly, I perfectly understand the responsibility that lies upon your shoulders.
Especially under current circumstances of extreme populism, numerous cyberattacks, direct armed aggression and aggressive propaganda campaigns.
As President of Ukraine, I sincerely count on your support of my country in these dramatically difficult conditions, in which we happen to find ourselves against our own will.
Three years ago, I was standing here, before this Assembly, and already as the Head of State shared with you our experience from the first days of countering Russian aggression.
I would sincerely wish to address you today with words that the aggression against my country is over.
That, within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, the military actions and the blatant occupation of parts of our sovereign territory are over.
That, in Ukraine, the peaceful life gradually returns to the liberated lands depleted by the military actions of those who keep saying “нас там нет” (“we are not there”), and by the occupation power.
Unfortunately, even after three years since my statement before the Assembly, we have still not reached this perspective.
You are well aware of the reason why.
Dear members of the Assembly,
Has something changed over these three years?
In Russian deeds and behavior – nothing.
Today, as three years ago, we are forced to keep searching for response to Russian aggression.
The aggression, which turned into brutal attack not only against Ukraine, but also against the human rights in the very heart of Europe.
Russia keeps bluntly violating the commitments taken upon itself.
The same way Moscow keeps ignoring our persistent demands and demands of the international community to get back to respect the international law.
This Assembly has also echoed these demands and fixed them in a number of its resolutions.
But, Russia keeps pretending that it has nothing to do with that.
Moscow continues to turn a blind eye to its commitments under the Minsk agreements.
Its military forces are still on the territory of Ukraine – both in Crimea and Donbas.
Military assets are still delivered to illegal entities created by Russia.
Every day we receive more worrying news about blatant violations of human rights on the occupied territories.
Release of hostages and political prisoners is stalled.
I cannot but mention Oleg Sentsov, Oleksander Kolchenko, Roman Sushchenko, and many others.
For over two year, we have fought for freeing of 63-years old Igor Kozlovskyy – a famous theologian, who remained in the occupied Donetsk to look after his ill son.
The same goes about 28-years old Stanislav Aseyev – a journalist, who was not afraid to write the truth about life in the occupied Donetsk.
Bad is that such stories of Ukrainian hostages are well over hundred already.
But, even worse is that the number of hostages in Donbas does not cease to rise.
People are deliberately chased and captured only for the fact that they are citizens of their own country – of the Ukrainian State.
They are captured with a cynical reason in mind: to blackmail Ukraine, which will never abandon its citizens – neither in Crimea, nor in Donbas, nor in the Russian prisons.
Systemic repressions have turned the Crimean peninsula in an island of no freedom and a land of fear.
In the occupied Crimea, Russia applies the worst practices of the Soviet repressive machine.
Anyone, who dares to reject the so-called “reunification with Russia”, becomes a victim of arbitrary detention, prosecution, torturing, extrajudicial executions and unhuman treatment.
Recently, a deputy head of Majlis Ahtem Chyigoz received the so-called verdict of the occupation authorities.
It was him who said that today in Crimea «those are tried who defended the laws of their country, international norms and rules».
Could anyone give more precise words describing the situation in Crimea than Ahtem Chyigoz in his final statement?
And this concerns not only Crimea, but Europe as a continent of the rule of law, not the rule of force.
A case of another deputy head of Majlis Ilmi Umerov is also telling.
At first, this hero of his people experienced the Russian «punitive psychiatry».
These days – an occupation court has sentenced him for two years in settlement colony.
A piercing chill of Soviet mock trials creeps from this sentence.
A scale of crimes and violations, committed by the occupation authorities in Crimea, demonstrates that Russia, which is recognized an occupying power by the UN General Assembly, clearly ignores its international legal commitments.
In this context, allow me to express my gratitude for the particular attention that the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe itself pay to the issue of Crimea.
Numerous appeals of the Council of Europe monitoring bodies on human rights to access to Crimea are all telling.
As telling is an unprecedented decision by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe «The situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and in the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine)», adopted this May.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to once again answer my question – has something change over the last three years since my last statement?
Yes, it has.
The international coalition in support of Ukraine and the rule of international law has only strengthened.
And I am very grateful to the honorable members of this Assembly for the solidarity in protecting Ukraine from the Russian aggression from the very beginning.
The people of Ukraine will always remember the hand of support extended to us by our friends in the most difficult moment of our history.
Exactly a year ago, this Assembly adopted the resolution «Political consequences of the Russian aggression in Ukraine».
It states – and I quote – «that only significant and measurable progress towards the implementation can form the basis for the restoration of a fully-fledged, mutually respectful dialogue with the Assembly». End of quote.
The Assembly then rightly reserved the right to annul credentials of the Russian delegation, if Russia continues the occupation of sovereign territories of Ukraine.
In fact, none of the demands were implemented by Russia.
It is not just about the implementation of a routine document.
Behind the provisions of this document are human fates and lives.
Hence, are there reasons to return to “business as usual’ with Russia in the Assembly and anywhere else within other international political platforms?
In this challenging moment, let us be frank with each other and with ourselves.
The aim of the Russian aggression is to destroy democracy, liberal freedoms and human rights.
In one places they do this with tanks. In other places – with the help of fake news.
In one case, they violate key principles of the international law. In another case – they manipulate the consciousness.
We have no right to fail against this challenge.
We will prove our dignity.
Over the recent years, the members of the Council of Europe have experienced the delicacy of Russian information warfare.
Not once, we have seen as the language of hatred, violence and discrimination was hidden under the slogans of free speech.
Russia tries to use our own achievements against the democratic community.
In 1950 Winston Churchill, an ideological father of the Council of Europe, appealed to this Assembly against the background of the challenge to the democratic Europe from the Soviet Union.
He admitted that Moscow had “a wealth of opportunities for creating trouble”.
Given the circumstances, he said something very important about the prospect of this Assembly.
I quote: “Either we shall prove our worth and weight and value to Europe or we shall fail”. End of quote.
With those words of wisdom in mind, I strongly reject some saying about “fait accompli” regarding Crimea.
This tribune was not invented for calls for appeasement.
Neither was it for appeals to trade in territory for money, oil or gas.
It was invented to safeguard our fundamentals, our values and our principles, and, most importantly, to defend them in time of a need.
The time has come.
It is now that Moscow pushed Europe back to the same reality that Sir Winston Churchill was so concerned by almost 70 years ago.
That is why the guarantee of our success resides in preserving and strengthening of our unity, solidarity and resilience.
It is only upon the respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine that we can achieve peace and stability in Europe.
Ukraine strives for peace as, I believe, everyone does in this hall.
I, as the Head of State, want peace for Ukraine and Europe.
And these are not mere words.
On numerous occasions, Ukraine proved its readiness for peaceful settlement of the situation that was artificially created by Russia.
Only in 2017 Ukraine has initiated long-lasting ceasefires for three times – Easter, Harvest and Back to School ceasefires.
Russian occupation troops and their proxies violated them all almost straightaway.
Last week the Ukrainian parliament adopted a law on establishing conditions for peaceful settlement of the situation in the certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
We count that Russia will finally begin to implement security commitments under the Minsk agreements.
We also expect that these steps will allow moving forward with the matter of the deployment of the UN peacekeeping operation in Donbas.
I call on the honorable Assembly to continue to pay attention to the issue of respect of human rights in the occupied Crimea and Donbas.
It is only upon our close attention to these regions that one could somehow ease today’s prosecutions in there.
Thus, I call on the members of this Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, the Secretary General, the Commissioner for Human Rights, other relevant monitoring bodies to double their efforts aimed at protecting human rights and freedoms.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to come back to my question yet again – has something changed for over the three years since my last statement?
Yet, it has.
Ukraine has considerable progressed along the way of internal transformations.
Despite existential challenges by Russian aggression.
This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the entry into force in Ukraine of the Convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Ukraine continues to implement its commitments as member-state of the Council of Europe while approximating its legislation, institutions and practices to the Council of Europe standards related to human rights, rule of law and democracy.
Last week we have laid yet another firm brick in our human rights defense wall having ratified protocols 15 and 16 to this Convention.
I would like to express my particular gratitude to the Council of Europe, including this Assembly, that actively supports the reform process in Ukraine.
The scope of reforms currently undertaken in Ukraine is quite broad. It ranges from unprecented financial and banking reform, when we totally cleared the banking sector, up to decentralization reform allocating more power and financial resources to local communities.
Looking back at the accomplishments of Ukraine, I am particularly pleased that the 2015-2017 Action Plan of the Council of Europe for Ukraine has become our common story of success.
The progress reached is a joint result of Ukraine and the Council of Europe.
We hope that the new Action Plan for 2018-2021, which is currently drafted in the Council of Europe, will be even more ambitious and successful.
We consider the one as a tool for further progress in reforms.
For us a front of internal transformations is no less important than a Russian front.
Here I cannot but mention the anticorruption measures undertaken by Ukraine.
We have established unprecedented anticorruption mechanisms, which already bear fruits. I mean the National Anticorruption Bureau, Specialized Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, and the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption.
This system already brings positive results – more often we hear about loud criminal cases.
However, the fight against corruption is not about criminal prosecution alone.
More important is the establishment of an effective system to prevent the disease, which eroded Ukraine for years since independence.
The launch of the electronic declaration of public servants’ income, expenses and financial obligations became one of effective tools in the fight against corruption in Ukraine.
It is perhaps one of the most ambitious initiatives of the government in the world from the standpoint of transparency and accountability before society and voters.
Particular attention we pay to the deregulation and minimization of public servants’ influence, including by means of new technologies.
The introduction of ProZorro electronic platform, which is a totally new and absolutely transparent public procurement system, has become a brilliant story of success.
The communication strategy in the field of preventing and countering corruption has also been adopted.
It provides for rooting an anticorruption culture in the society.
One could reasonably ask if the anticorruption glass is half-empty or half-full?
My answer is the following: the one is exactly half-full.
The next strategic priority is a further build-up of judiciary and renewal of social trust in the judiciary.
I am sincerely grateful to the Council of Europe for constant support to this most important reform, which we jointly started back in 2014.
The amendments to the Constitution on judiciary have been adopted with expert assistance and support of the Venice Commission in 2016.
Also, the new laws “On Judicial System and Status of Judges”, “On High Council of Justice”, “On Constitutional Court”, new procedural codes were adopted - and all this in less than three years!
As the Venice Commission has pointed out in its recent Opinion, “this reform is clearly aimed at reconstructing the Ukrainian justice system in accordance with the standards of the Council of Europe and securing the rule of law in Ukraine”.
It was a “tectonic shift” that permitted to fill judiciary system with new substance and provide opportunity to build up a truly independent judicial branch of power, based on the European standards.
The complete reshuffle of judiciary system is underway.
It started with unprecedented relaunch of the Supreme Court upon my initiative.
Today, this highest judiciary institution in Ukraine is being set up from scratch via open competition with active participation of civil society.
Among the winners of the competition to the post of judges of the new Supreme Court are lawyers, legal scholars, human rights advocates who have never worked as judges before, as well as best judges from all over Ukraine.
They have passed strict and thorough selection, including professional and psychological tests, as well as checks by National Anticorruption Bureau and National Agency for Prevention of Corruption.
Of course, they still have to prove their capabilities in practice.
But it should be the best composition of the Supreme Court in Ukraine’s modern history.
The High Council of Justice decided to submit 111 candidates to be appointed as new judges of the Supreme of Court. I will fulfil this in due manner.
The launch of the new Supreme Court and the entire judicial system according to new rules becomes the point of no return for the judicial reform and those successful steps we undertook within its framework.
I know that the creation of the Anticorruption Court draws a special attention.
The creation of Anticorruption Court is envisaged by the Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges, which I submitted to the Parliament. It was adopted last year.
The Venice Commission welcomed this initiative mentioning the need “for creating an independent and efficient special anticorruption judicial body”.
Currently, we are looking for the optimal way to establish this vital institution.
Obviously, we should not lose the substance of the reform behind its name.
Thus, efforts invested to the establishment of the Anticorruption Court would be successful if four elements are taken into account:
- First - legislation, which complies with the Ukrainian Constitution;
- Second - independent, politically neutral and unbiased members of the Commission that would select judges;
- Third - candidates meting highest professional and integrity standards;
- Fourth - a newly created Court should enjoy trust of society.
Today, there are some questions regarding quality of the draft laws pending in the Verkhovna Rada, in particular the draft law on the establishment of Anticorruption Court, submitted by a number of MPs.
The provisions suggested by the MPs, restoring significant influence on the formation of anticorruption court by such political bodies as Verkhovna Rada, Minister of Justice, and the President, particularly give rise to concerns.
The recent Venice Commission expert Opinion clearly pointed out that political influence on the formation of the anticorruption court is unacceptable.
It contradicts to the European standards and the concept of constitutional reform, which should be built on the principle of maximum de-politicization of the judiciary.
That is why there is a need for all democratic political forces and civil society to get united, and work, with the engagement of international experts, in order to prepare professionally a new consolidated draft law and to pass it through the parliament.
The main task before Ukraine is not only to establish the anticorruption court, but also to ensure fair legal proceedings within the framework of the unified and renewed system of justice.
Today, the entire judiciary system in Ukraine has to be of anticorruption nature.
This is an absolute prerequisite for the restoration of social trust and strengthening of social unity.
We count on further support of this Assembly as regards the strengthening of civil society in Ukraine based upon the implementation of the democratic standards, support of cultural diversity and the build-up of social institutions.
In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to unreasonable politicisation of the Law on Education.
My stance on education is clear.
The quality of education determines the nation’s future and security.
Therefore, this area should be reformed.
Apart from being a significant part of the educational reform, the adopted Law has become the law of equal opportunities for each stakeholder in education system.
And let me be specifically clear: the equal opportunities for all pupils! Regardless of their origin, residence or nationality.
It is unacceptable that the children, belonging to national minorities in Ukraine, do not have adequate knowledge of the Ukrainian language, which is needed for further education in universities, professional career, and self-realization in Ukraine.
This Law is to fix this problem.
The Parliament of Ukraine has envisaged the improvement of learning Ukrainian at the level of pre-school and primary education with a view to creating conditions for studying in the official language at the higher levels.
At the same time, the law safeguards the right to learn native language at the required level.
Let me remind you that the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which was adopted here in Strasbourg 25 years ago, stipulates that all commitments related to the national minorities should be implemented “without prejudice to the teaching of the official language(s) of the State”.
I believe that the provisions of this Charter should be applied by all the signatories.
Let me reassure you that we will guarantee the language rights in accordance with the national legislation and international commitments and standards, including the right to study in native language.
At the same time, we will provide adequate learning of the official language, which is Ukrainian.
The best proof of this commitment is our decision to submit the respective article for assessment of the Venice Commission.
I believe that its conclusions will lift all controversial interpretation of this law, which is aimed, in fact, at ensuring a decent place for all the national minorities in the integral Ukrainian society.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is hardly more evident example of a nation than Ukraine, which has to fight a two-front war at the same time.
On the front of countering external military aggression, restoration of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
And on the front of implementing difficult and complex reforms.
The turning point was the Revolution of Dignity of late 2013 – early 2014.
It is very symbolic that on the margins of my visit to Strasbourg I will inaugurate the Star for the Heavenly Hundred at the Strasbourg Alley of the Stars.
It will be the Star for those heroes of the Revolution of Dignity, who sacrificed their lives for our right to build the country by the European model.
For those heroes, who took the European future of Ukraine as their reason of life.
As their motivation in struggle against former regime and aspiration for changes and transformations in our country.
By opening the Star for the Heavenly Hundred, we will commemorate their contribution to the history of Ukraine and to the history of Europe.
It is our common duty, regarding their memory and sacrifice, to win on both fronts in Ukraine and to strengthen the common values in Europe.
In a peaceful, stable and prosperous Europe!
I believe that it will come true, thanks to our unity and solidarity!
Thank you for attention and your support and confidence in our country!
Glory to Ukraine!
Glory to Europe!