Thank you, President Zelenskyy. I am very pleased to meet with you again and to build on our last discussions at the EU-Ukraine summit last October, in Brussels.
We are on the European continent, in 2021, and there is war. This is a shameful reality. People continue to die in this conflict. And to live in extremely difficult circumstances. I wanted to come here to highlight yet again how unacceptable the situation is and to meet those who do their jobs under extremely difficult circumstances.
I also wanted to express again the EU’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We strongly support, with all available tools, the efforts in the Normandy format and the Trilateral Contact Group to bring peace to the people of Donbas. The full implementation of the Minsk agreements is the way forward for peace. I welcome the important steps Ukraine, under President Zelenskyy’s leadership, has taken in this regard.
I have seen how Ukraine’s work at the separation line, in close cooperation with international stakeholders, is improving people’s daily lives. I have also seen the impact of direct EU support here in Shchastya. A full cease-fire, more crossing points, and further de-mining would further improve the lives of people, on both sides of the contact line. The EU is ready to support these efforts.
Unfortunately Russia has not reciprocated Ukraine’s positive steps to implement the Minsk Agreements. That’s why our economic sanctions against Russia will remain in place. Russia is a party to this conflict, and not a mediator. We expect Russia to ensure the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has full access to the areas of Ukraine not controlled by the government. The COVID-19 pandemic must not be a pretext to further separate these regions from Ukraine. We also call on Russia to return to the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination.
The EU has provided substantial support to Ukraine to mitigate the impact of the conflict, and this year we are starting a new programme to support economic development and public services in these regions. This will include funding for the Entry-Exit Crossing Points.
Let me say once again, President Zelenskyy, the people of Ukraine are not alone. We are on your side.