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19th Aug 2018

EU and Ukraine celebrate ties, as war rumbles on

  • EU-Ukraine treaty became geopolitical symbol after 2014 revolution (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko will celebrate ever-closer Western ties with EU officials in Kiev on Wednesday (12 July) amid a backdrop of ongoing Russian aggression.

Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, representing the European Council and European Commission, will hand Poroshenko a letter notifying Ukraine that the EU has completed ratification of a political and trade pact.

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  • Monitors reported 460 explosions in east Ukraine on 9 July (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

The treaty aims to align Ukraine’s economy with the single market.

It became a geopolitical symbol after Ukrainian people overthrew a pro-Kremlin regime three years ago for refusing to sign it, prompting Russia’s subsequent invasion.

The EU ratification, completed on Tuesday, comes after a visa-waiver, put in place last month, for Ukrainian visitors to Europe.

Poroshenko is also angling to start talks with Nato on a membership action plan [MAP].

An EU official told press in Brussels the Kiev summit would celebrate a “very positive moment in our relationship”.

The official said the EU pact, which is already being provisionally implemented, had seen trade increase by 17 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to early last year.

He said Ukraine had also made “progress” on treaty-linked reforms, mentioning public finances, energy prices, the police, the judiciary, the banking sector, the health care sector, and pensions as areas of improvement.

He noted the EU had paid out over €10 billion of a €12.8 billion pledge to help Ukraine get back on its feet.

He said Tusk and Juncker would underline that Ukraine remained an “important transit country” for Russian gas amid Russia’s plans to bypass it with a new pipeline to Germany.

He also said they would take a “clear and consistent” line that EU sanctions on Russia would stay in place so long as it continued the war in eastern Ukraine.

Daily fire

The summit comes amid daily fire between the Ukrainian army and Russia-controlled forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east and amid Russia's occupation of Crimea.

International monitors, the OSCE, said there were about 460 explosions in the easterly regions on the night of 9 July in their latest report.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato head, said in Kiev on Monday that Russia had “thousands of soldiers” in the area.

Poroshenko said it had “artillery, tank, and multi-rocket launch systems” there.

The invasion has claimed more than 10,000 lives and displaced more than 1 million people, with the EU official saying the bloc would pay Ukraine an additional €600 million this year in aid to refugees.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Brussels on Tuesday but to little avail.

She said, alluding to Ukraine, it was “clear we do not share the same position on everything”.

Lavrov said EU sanctions on Russia were a “very short-term strategy” and claimed its sanctions on the Syrian regime, a Russian ally, had led to shortages of medicines there.

Mogherini said EU visa bans and asset freezes had nothing to do with that because “they’re all targeted at individuals who hold specific responsibilities in the [Syria] war”.

Ukraine backtracking

The EU official added that Ukraine must do more to combat corruption in future.

The same message was sent out by Human Rights Watch, a US-based NGO, and by some MEPs.

The NGO said Poroshenko had harassed journalists and activists trying to fight corruption by forcing them to declare their own financial assets online.

It said that amounted to “backtracking” on human rights pledges “including free speech and a free media”.

Rebecca Harms, a German Green MEP dealing with Ukraine, added: “The establishment of an independent anti-corruption court must not be blocked any longer”.

Corruption allegations have also put a dampener on the EU visa waiver after Ryanair, an Irish airline, froze plans to offer cheap flights to Kiev and Lviv saying it was being muscled out by oligarchs.

The ratification of the EU-Ukraine pact had been delayed by a Dutch referendum in which people voted against the treaty.

But the Dutch government passed it after adding a caveat that it did not guarantee future EU membership.

Nato officials this week also quashed ideas that Ukraine might get a MAP any time soon, saying Stoltenberg had merely “taken note” of Kiev's request.

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