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16th Oct 2021

Ukraine to continue pro-EU reforms despite Dutch 'blow'

Ukraine will implement its EU treaty despite the Dutch vote because it is good for the country, its president and its EU ambassador have said.

“Ukraine will keep on implementing the association agreement … it is a way to modernise Ukraine and reinforce its independence. We will not turn off the road of European integration,” president Petro Poroshenko said in a statement on Thursday (7 April).

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  • The association treaty is designed to remodel Ukraine along EU lines (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

His EU ambassdor, Mykola Tochytskyi told EUobserver that “it’s not for the sake of the Netherlands that we must reform our coutry, it’s for the future of the 47 million Ukrainian people.”

They spoke after exit polls on Wednesday indicated that 61 percent of Dutch voters urged The Hague not to ratify the EU-Ukraine association and free trade treaty.

The official result of the non-binding referendum is to be published on 12 April.

The treaty, signed in 2014, is designed to remodel Ukraine’s public institutions and its economy along EU lines.

It also has symbolic value because its rejection by the former Ukrainian regime led to the Maidan revolution and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Recalling Poroshenko, Tochytskyi said the Dutch vote changes nothing in terms of Ukraine’s identity or foreign policy.

“We’ve demonstrated that we’re not just geographically in Europe, we’re philosophically in Europe,” he said.

He added that the treaty is sound in technical terms. “We don’t need to reinvent the bicycle,” he said.

He also said the Dutch vote has “nothing to do” with Ukraine’s bid to get EU visa-free travel.

“It might even help, because the reaction by our [EU] partners might be: ‘Look, let’s help the Ukrainians because they’re fighting for EU values in east Ukraine against a big, hybrid adversary,” he added, referring to Ukraine's ongoing conflict against Russia-puppet forces.

President Poroshenko said the referendum was not really about EU-Ukraine relations.

“The true goal of the organisers of this referendum is not the association agreement … this is an attack on the unity of Europe, on the spread of European values,” he said in his statement.

Tochytskyi added: “I think the migration crisis, euroscepticism, the difficult economic situation in the Netherlands all had a serious influence.”

The referendum took place amid news of corruption scandals in Kiev, including Panama Papers revelations that Poroshenko had created an offshore entity.

Tochytskyi said “the stories [on corruption] in the newspaprs here in Europe didn’t help.”

But he added that the “proper response” to the bad news was “implementation of rule of law.”

He said that Kiev, in line with the EU treaty, had created new anti-corruption agencies and passed a law obliging senior officials, including himself, to post online declarations of financial assets.

Psychology

The ambassador, who recently arrived in Brussels to take up his post, admitted that the Dutch vote was a “psychological blow”.

He said it was made worse by the fact that “it’s not for the first time in our history when some countries, especially those at the centre of the EU, haven’t provided enough support.”

Speaking from Kiev, one EU state’s diplomat, who asked not to be named, told this website the popular reaction in Ukraine was “quite sober.”

“When you look at comments from bloggers, journalists, MPs - there’s no panic,” he said.

“There’s a consensus that the referendum was more about Europe, or about The Netherlands’ place in the EU, so people don’t feel offended,” he said.

The Kremlin’s official reaction was also muted.

It’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Dutch result shows people’s “mistrust” of closer Ukraine ties but called it a “domestic affair.”

Russian PM Dmitry Medevdev said on Twitter that the referendum was “an indicator of Europeans’ attitude to the Ukrainian political system.”

Reacting to claims that Russia had given clandestine support to the Dutch No campaign, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told the Tass news agency: “We do not interfere in this process. We did not touch on this issue in any way.”

Fear

Individual Russian MPs were more outspoken.

Alexey Pushkov, the head of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, told Tass that Ukraine causes “fear” in Europe.

Pushkov and two other senior MPs, Frants Klintsevich and Alexander Romanovich, echoed Russian propaganda.

They described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a Ukrainian “acute civil conflict.” They also accused Ukraine of suppressing the truth about “massacres” of civilians and of letting “fascists” march around its cities.

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