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Paul Johnston

Ambassador to Ireland

Part of UK in Sweden

9th May 2014

Two Elections, One Day, One Europe

Britain and Sweden see eye to eye on the implications of the Ukraine crisis. Here’s a translation of the article I wrote for Swedish national newspaper Dagens Industri today.

In less than three weeks’ time, the people of Ukraine go to the polls in Presidential elections that will determine the future direction of their country. According to reputable polling organisations, over 80 percent of Ukrainians said they will vote on 25 May.

On the same day hundreds of millions of us will vote to elect our representatives for the European Parliament.

It’s symbolic that both sets of elections take place on the same day. It reminds us of the values the EU is built on and the values we must stand up for and protect in Ukraine.

Preparations for the elections in Ukraine have been going ahead despite attempts to destabilise, disrupt and intimidate the process and the people. They have been going ahead despite attempts to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine more widely. The UK is clear that such attempts must stop to open the way for a political solution, which is the only way to resolve the crisis.

The UK and Sweden, with our other EU partners, are committed to offering whatever support we can to help Ukraine move ahead to a more prosperous, accountable and democratic future.

But the choice of who should lead Ukraine to that future and what direction that future should be is for people in Ukraine to make, without fear of instability and intimidation.

International support for a stable, democratic Ukraine is clear: it comes from European nations, the United States; the G7 and NATO allies.

We do not underestimate the challenges Ukraine faces or the help it needs.

In April, the IMF agreed a loan that will help Ukraine to tackle its immediate financial needs and launch much-needed reforms. The UK has sent police experts to help work with the authorities in Ukraine on tracking the vast funds looted by former President Yanukovych and his cronies. We want to see these assets returned to their rightful owners, the people of Ukraine. This will take time and hard work, but last month in London we gave further momentum to this process with the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery.

The next three weeks will be challenging. Violent confrontations have continued in Sloviansk, Odessa and other parts of the country. Dozens of people have been abducted and detained illegally, and political activists have disappeared. Journalists have been held hostage or intimated.

The British government commends the Ukrainian authorities for the restraint they have shown in the face of severe provocation. We recognise the undeniable challenges of responding resolutely to armed and violent lawlessness whilst avoiding risk to innocent civilians. It’s a hard balance to strike, but vital to make every effort to do so.

The international community has a crucial role to play in supporting normalisation in Ukraine. Following last month’s EU/US/Russia/Ukraine agreement in Geneva, the Government of Ukraine has taken significant steps to bring about stability and reconciliation. They have made commitments to protect minority rights, offered an amnesty for those involved in actions in eastern Ukraine, special status for the Russian language and launched a debate on constitutional reform and decentralisation.

The world is looking to Russia to live up to its Geneva commitments.

Russia must pull back its troops. It must ensure that its proxies in eastern Ukraine release hostages, lay down their arms, cease provocations, leave the buildings they have occupied, and allow the legitimate, democratic processes to take their course. And it must step back from its illegal annexation of Crimea. It should stop disinformation and propaganda and accept that the vast majority of the people want to stay in an independent Ukraine.

The UK does not want to see Russia isolated. I know from my time working on the UN Security Council that Russia can make a constructive difference to solving some of the world’s most difficult problems. But when fundamental UN and European values are being undermined we cannot continue with business as usual. We cannot stand by and ignore the attempts to dismember the sovereign territory of Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea or to foment instability and discord in eastern Ukraine.

The UK is committed to this agenda, which is not confrontational but rooted in shared values and shared interests. It’s about supporting Ukraine as a country with a right to choose its own future, which can become a modern, democratic nation, one which embraces European values, embraces transparency and condemns corruption.

Ukraine’s elections are a chance for a new start for Ukraine. The UK and Sweden and the international community should stands with Ukraine as people there decide their future.

About Paul Johnston

Paul Johnston joined the UK Civil Service in 1990, working for the Ministry of Defence initially. He has served in Paris and New York and has also had a wide…

Paul Johnston joined the UK Civil Service in 1990, working for the Ministry of Defence initially.

He has served in Paris and New York and has also had a wide range of political and security roles in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Paul joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1993 as Desk Officer for Bosnia. As part of this role he was also Private Secretary to EU negotiator Lord Owen and his representative on Bosnia Contact Group.

His first foreign posting was to Paris in 1995-99 as Second Secretary Political. He was Private Secretary to the Ambassador and latterly part of the UK delegation to the Kosovo Rambouillet negotiations. Then he returned to London as Head of the Kosovo Policy Team, leading work on post-conflict policy in the EU, NATO, UN and G8.

Before his second overseas posting to New York in 2005, Paul held a variety of other EU policy and security appointments in London, such as Head of European Defence Section between 2000-01 and Head of Security Policy Department between 2002-04.

As Head of the Political Section in UKMIS New York, he advised on major policy issues for the UK on the Security Council and the UN World Summit, including the UK EU Presidency in 2005.

Paul returned to London in 2008 as Director, International Security for the FCO. He was responsible for policy on UN, NATO, European Security, arms control and disarmament, human rights and good governance.

Paul was British Ambassador to Sweden from August 2011 to August 2015 and then was Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO.

He was UK Ambassador to the EU for Political and Security affairs from 2017 to January 2020 and became Ambassador to Ireland in September 2020.