Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko urged Dutch voters on Thursday to support his country’s association agreement with the European Union in a referendum next year.
But he also argued that a “no” vote would not derail the process. “This is the Rubicon that we need to cross” to fully break with Ukraine’s Soviet past, he said.
Before meeting Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, Poroshenko had argued that activists who seek to undo the association agreement are playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands.
“I am horrified by the idea that the Dutch are being taken hostage in a political game,” he told the NRC Handelsblad, a newspaper.
Putin is widely blamed in the Netherlands for an airline crash in eastern Ukraine last year that killed 193 Dutch tourists. Russian-backed rebels are accused of downing the jet.
But the Dutch have also grown more Euroskeptic in recent years. The association agreement with Ukraine that triggered the deterioration in relations with Russia symbolizes for many a European elite that is out of touch with voters.
Euroskeptic groups and the popular blog GeenStijl gathered nearly half a million signatures earlier this year to force a referendum.
It will not be binding. But a majority of parties in parliament has said they will respect the outcome.
Not a stepping stone to membership
Poroshenko and Rutte went out of their way on Thursday to argue that the agreement is not a stepping stone to EU membership for Ukraine.
“This is the agreement on reforms, human rights, protection of democracy,” according to Poroshenko. “Who can be against democracy?”
Rutte pointed out that the bloc has conducted similar treaties with countries in Latin America and the Middle East. “They aren’t about to become EU members either,” he said.
The agreement — which has been ratified by Dutch lawmakers already and is due to come into force next year — commits Ukraine to harmonizing its economic and social policies with those of countries in the European Union.
Other former Russian client states in Eastern Europe signed similar treaties before joining the EU between 2004 and 2007.