EU makes another attempt to press Ukraine to fight corruption

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko (L) with European Union Council President Donald Tusk (C) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) during a news conference at the end of EU Ukraine Summit in Brussels, Belgium, 9 July 2018. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA/EFE]

EU leaders used the 20th EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels on Monday (9 July) to press the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko, once again to take credible steps to fight rampant corruption.

Ukraine’s Western-backed leaders promised reforms to clamp down on corruption when they came to power in 2014 after street protests toppled a pro-Russia president. Foreign donors have tied billions of dollars of aid to the success of those reforms.

But four years later, corruption remains rife and the latest tranche of International Monetary Fund lending is on hold because of delays in implementing the reforms.

Resignation of reformist minister sheds light on rampant Ukraine corruption

Ukraine’s Economy Minister, Aivaras Abromavicius, abruptly tendered his resignation today (3 February), saying overwhelming corruption had stifled his efforts to push through measures essential to getting growth back on track in the cash-strapped country.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Poroshenko, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made it clear that the last €1 billion in new macro-financial assistance, to support economic stabilisation and structural reforms, is conditional on further reform and credible attempts to fight corruption.

“Since I took office, out of the €12.8 billion pledged to Ukraine, the EU and the European financial institutions have mobilised so far over €11 billion. We have made as a Commission a proposal for the 4th Macro-Financial Assistance programme. It was signed days ago by the Council of Ministers and by the European Parliament. This is a commitment I made under conditions to President Poroshenko personally and it will provide €1 billion to support the continued reform efforts,” Juncker said.

“The more reforms will take place in Ukraine, the greater will be the EU assistance,” he added.

Poroshenko, who could seek re-election next year, says he is committed to fighting corruption and points to overhauls of the energy and banking sectors, and the state procurement system, as evidence. But his popularity has slumped as faith in his ability to implement reforms has faded.

In his speech, he insisted that reforms will continue.

“I am grateful to EU leaders for objective and positive assessment of our achievements, which is reflected also in our joint Statement. It is true that during last four years Ukraine managed to implement more reforms than during the whole period of its independence,” Poroshenko said.

“I assured our European friends that we have no intention to slow down on reforms. In this context, I expressed gratitude for all the support the EU provides for reforms implementation, economic stabilisation and growth”, the Ukrainian president added.

Council President Donald Tusk said reforms in Ukraine may look difficult in the short term but would make the country stronger in the long term.

“We welcome the recent establishment of the High Anti-Corruption Court and look forward to the swift adoption of the amendments necessary to make it function properly. Anti-corruption reforms must remain high on the agenda,” Tusk said.

The Council president also reiterated EU support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.

“Our non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol remains firm and our visa ban list has been expanded following the conduct of Russian Presidential elections on the peninsula and the building of the Kerch bridge without Ukraine’s consent,” Tusk explained.

Putin opens new bridge to Crimea, provoking Ukraine, Western ire

President Vladimir Putin drew condemnation from the US, Europe and Ukraine on Tuesday (15 May) after he opened a new bridge linking mainland Russia and Moscow-annexed Crimea by driving a truck across it to the peninsula.

The EU extended economic sanctions against Moscow for six more months, due to actions related to its annexation of Crimea and backing of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, the EU Council said on Thursday (6 July).

Economic sanctions targeting specific sectors of the Russian economy were prolonged until 31 January 2019. This decision followed an update on the state of play of the Minsk process from French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to EU leaders at the last EU summit.

The Minsk agreements, a deal reached to end the fight in Ukraine’s Donbass region, were intended to be implemented in December 2015. Although some EU countries are impatient for the sanctions to be lifted, leaders agreed a text saying that since the accords have not been implemented, the sanctions remain in place.

Tusk also made reference to the tragic downing of flight MH-17.

“We pay tribute to the victims, call on Russia to accept its responsibility and look forward to the effective prosecution of those responsible for this tragedy.”

In May, Dutch prosecutors identified a Russian military unit as the source of the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board. Russia repeated that it had nothing to do with the incident.

Pressure builds on Russia under MH17 investigation

Dutch prosecutors identified a Russian military unit on Thursday (24 May) as the source of the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

NATO summit

Poroshenko will take part in the 11-12 July NATO summit, despite the resistance of Hungary, whose prime minister, Viktor Orbán, could block the adoption of a common communiqué. Orbán has friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Poroshenko and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will make a joint statement on 12 July outside the summit remit. Both Ukraine and Georgia want to join NATO but several members believe that such a move would unnecessarily exacerbate relations with Moscow.

Reuters quoted a Ukrainian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, saying that Kyiv received “clear assurances from the American side that Ukrainian interests will be confirmed and protected [at the summit]”.

Asked a few days ago whether the US might eventually recognise Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, US President Donald Trump offered a laconic “we’re going to have to see”.

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