20th Mar 2019

EU backs Yushchenko as Ukraine returns to normal

  • The west continues to back Yushchenko despite ugly Kiev infighting (Photo:

The EU is giving its full backing to president Viktor Yushchenko's regime, as Ukraine slowly returns to normality after its most serious political crisis since the Orange Revolution last year.

"We have full confidence in president Yushchenko", EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Cristina Gallach told EUobserver on Thursday (22 September), following an EU-Ukraine meeting in New York on Wednesday.

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"You will find in the EU an understanding of the tremendous difficulties with the reform agenda in Ukraine", she added. "You can't expect to turn around a country in six months".

Member states underlined that it is business as usual with Ukraine by agreeing this week to send 50 EU monitors to the Ukrainian-Moldovan frontier in December under Mr Yushchenko's plan to stabilise the neighbouring republic.

The European Commission will select the unarmed mobile units from existing member states' customs personnel in the next two months.

Europe's reaction comes after Mr Yushchenko sacked his government, led by powerful prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, over corruption allegations on 8 September and installed loyalists Oleg Rybachuk (former EU integration minister) as head of the civil service and Yuriy Yekhanurov (former governor of Dnipropetrovsk) as prime minister.

Ms Tymoshenko hit back on Sunday by depicting Mr Yushchenko as an oligarch puppet, while a hostile parliament on Wednesday rejected Mr Yekhanurov's prime ministerial nomination and announced a fraud probe into the president's own 2004 electoral campaign.

Sudden breakthrough

But with Brussels watching the country slide into chaos, things turned around again on Thursday, when Ms Tymoshenko suddenly offered to work in parallel with the Yushchenko camp and a second parliamentary vote confirmed Mr Yekhanurov's nomination.

Russia, the US, France and Poland echoed the EU in publicly endorsing president Yushchenko during the crisis, with Poland describing the mess as a second phase in the revolutionary process while other diplomats said it was the start of campaigning for the March 2006 parliamentary elections.

One western expert indicated that nobody outside the inner circle in Kiev really knows what went on however, with foreign powers privately accepting that there are no angels in Kiev and some degree of government corruption has to be tolerated for now.

Meanwhile, the EU remains cautiously optimistic about Kiev pushing forward reforms under its 1998 EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) and its 2005 Action Plan (AP), which identifies some 70 areas for economic and legal improvements.

"I think Mr Yushchenko knows very well what he has to do", Ms Gallach said. "Let's get a stable government, let's get a united parliament and a prime minister who will put reforms at the top of the agenda".

She compared his 8 September government dismissal to a 9 July move when Mr Yushchenko sacked all traffic police in the 50 million-strong country over corruption, leading to a period of chaos on the roads, but with less-corrupt police emerging in its place.

Ukrainian EU ambassador Roman Shpek also pointed out that the free media coverage of the crisis, the open criticism of the president and the defiance of parliament would have been unthinkable in pre-Orange Revolution days.

"Ukraine will emerge stronger from this crisis", he said.

Long road ahead

The EU's December summit in Kiev will assess the country's progress in terms of its WTO candidature, the possibility of easing EU visa restrictions and the country's progress on PCA and AP goals.

But Ukrainian diplomats remain concerned over the tendency to speak about the country in terms of neighbourhood programmes and third country partnerships rather than as a future EU candidate.

Mr Shpek said Kiev wants to step beyond the PCA and AP structure in the next few years into a new "enhanced agreement", that could see EU aid reach the levels of Pre-Accession Strategy paymets for the new eastern European member states.

Ukraine currently pockets some €100 million a year in EU grants, while Poland scooped over €1 billion a year in the run-up to accession.

For its part, the EU acknowledges that Ukraine holds special value due to its economic potential and strategic location, but says that it is still too early to create timetables for WTO, NATO or EU entry.

For now, the international community is waiting to see how Ukraine passes its next big test, the March 2006 elections - where the three competing forces of Mr Yushchenko, Ms Tymoshenko and the old pro-Soviet faction will slug it out to see who takes charge of the fledgling democracy for the next four years.

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