PM aid for Eastern European states

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Published: Friday 20th March 2015 by The News Editor

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David Cameron has launched a new drive to bolster former communist states under pressure from Vladimir Putin as the continuing stand-off between Russia and the West over Ukraine raised fears of a new cold war.

The Prime Minister is setting up a £20 million Good Governance Fund to strengthen democratic institutions across a series of Eastern European states to help them counter intimidation from the Kremlin.

British officials said the scheme is based on the Know-How Fund set up by Margaret Thatcher following the fall of the Berlin Wall to help Poland and other former Soviet bloc states make the transition to democracy and free-market capitalism.

The move came as European Union leaders meeting in Brussels agreed there would be no easing of sanctions against Moscow until it was clear the Minsk ceasefire deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatist rebels was being fully honoured.

European Council President Donald Tusk told a news conference: “Our common intention is very clear – to maintain the sanctions until Minsk is fully implemented,”.

Arriving yesterday in the Belgian capital for the two-day summit, British officials underlined the importance of sanctions as a “strategic weapon” against Mr Putin – while pouring scorn on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent suggestion that there should be a “European army”.

“People having been talking about aspirations for European armies,” said one official. “We shouldn’t be indulging in those fantasises when we have got a credible strategic weapon in the form of economic sanctions. We should be focusing on how we use them.”

Officials said the new governance fund was designed to counter Russian attempts to de-stabilise other neighbouring states in the way that it had Ukraine.

“The long-term interest for the UK is that we see strong and stable states on the borders of Eastern Europe,” one official said. “It is a long-term investment to prevent the next Ukraine.”

The scheme will be focused initially on the former Soviet states of Georgia and Moldova and the ex-Yugoslavian republics of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as providing continuing assistance to Ukraine.

Officials said it will be used to provide technical assistance across a wide range of fields including tackling corruption, reforming police and justice systems, banking modernisation and tax reform.

“It is the building blocks of democracy, the strong institutions that give the people of that country a view that they are being looked after, they are not swung by possible intimidation or other messages coming from other countries,” said one official.

“We’ve said to these countries that we want to support them on the transition to democracy. It shouldn’t just be words.

“At a time when they are facing some intimidation from Russia we should be standing alongside them with some concrete help.”

The scheme will almost certainly be viewed with suspicion by Mr Putin who has repeatedly railed against what he regards as Western attempts to encircle his country.

It comes just a week after Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond revealed that Britain’s intelligence agencies were stepping up their efforts to counter Moscow’s ambitions which he described as potentially the biggest single threat to UK security.

Mr Cameron is today expected to hold talks with other key EU leaders on the continuing efforts to reach an agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme while the main summit will include a discussion on the situation in Libya.

The meeting has largely been over-shadowed by the continuing row between Greece’s left-wing Syriza and its creditors in the eurozone over the terms of its bail-out, even though the issue is not on the formal summit agenda.

Published: Friday 20th March 2015 by The News Editor

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