Урсула фон дер Ляєн. Скріншот
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has declined Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's invitation to take part in the first summit of the Crimean Platform and the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's Independence Day. The response letter signed by her cabinet chief Bjorn Seibert, which is a violation of diplomatic protocol.
Zelensky had written to von der Leyen inviting her to Kyiv to attend a 30th-anniversary celebration of Ukrainian independence, as well as an inauguration of the “Crimean Platform” summit.
Von der Leyen rejects invitation
Von der Leyen rejected the invitation due to an "overly busy agenda," the Politico news site reported.
The given reason raised questions among diplomats and officials, considering the events in Kyiv are set for August 23 and 24, in the least busy month for EU affairs, when the overwhelming majority of EU staff takes their annual leave.
"Regrettably, the president is unable to give a positive response to your invitation due to a particularly heavy agenda on the days in question. Thank you in advance for your understanding," wrote the letter signed by the cabinet chief instead of von der Leyen herself.
Violation of diplomatic protocol
According to the protocol, the response to Zelensky's invitation should have been signed by the European Commission president.
In his letter, Seibert also wrote, “President von der Leyen has asked me to pass on her best wishes for a successful summit and her congratulations to you and the people of Ukraine on this important anniversary.”
The Commission’s chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, declined to comment on the letter. “We have no comment on correspondence between the Commission and the authorities of third countries,” he said.
EC president will send a different reply
The chief spokesperson on Thursday admitted that the letter leaked to the press was real. However, he insisted that it had not been yet sent to the Ukrainian authorities and von der Leyen would send her own reply.
“The president hopes to reiterate her support for Ukraine at an upcoming event with President Zelenskiy that is to be organized ahead of the 30th anniversary,” he added.
However, it is not clear if von der Leyen will join the international Crimean Platform and present at the independence anniversary of Ukraine.
Inconvenient decision and timing
Other EU officials said von der Leyen’s decision not to attend the independence celebration was complicating efforts to schedule an EU-Ukraine Council meeting that is due to take place in Ukraine, and which Council officials were hoping to hold at the same time.
The timing was also unfortunate, as rejecting such an invitation could raise doubts about von der Leyen’s commitment to demonstrating support for Ukraine at a time when Russia is amassing the highest number of troops at its border since 2014 — the year Moscow annexed Crimea and pro-Russian separatists seized a large swathe of eastern Ukraine.
The Crimean Platform is a new consultative and coordination format initiated by Ukraine to improve the international response to the occupation of Crimea and growing security challenges.
The Platform aims to increase international pressure on Russia, prevent further human rights violations, protect victims of the occupation regime, and achieve the goal of de-occupation of Crimea and its return to Ukraine.
The Crimean Platform will operate at several levels: The first is the highest political level, which will be joined by foreign heads of state and government. The second is the level of heads of foreign policy departments and defence ministers; the third is the inter-parliamentary level; the fourth is the level of non-governmental experts.
The activities of the Crimean Platform will be officially launched at the inaugural summit which is planned to be held in Kyiv on August 23, 2021.