Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker cancelled his visit to Ukraine today (30 March) due to health reasons. Instead, an EU-Ukraine summit will take place on 27 April in Kyiv, with the participation of EU heads of state and government.
Juncker, accompanied by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, was expected in Kyiv on what was going to be his first bilateral visit abroad since he took office last November.
However, on Saturday, the website of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko published a press release according to which Juncker and Poroshenko had spoken by phone, and that the Commission President had said he had to postpone his visit “due to unforeseen health conditions”.
Juncker had undergone a minor operation to treat kidney stones, according to his spokesman.
“The parties have agreed to coordinate (a) new date of the visit via diplomatic channels, and confirmed that the Ukraine-EU summit would be held on April 27,” the press release says.
The news about the summit, expected to take place in Kyiv, comes amid a shaky ceasefire between Kyiv forces and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east, which came into force on 15 February (see background).
The holding of annual summits was set down in the association agreement signed by the EU and Kyiv’s pro-western government after it came to power in June 2014.
That followed the fall of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, who left the country following three months of bloody protests sparked by his decision to suspend preparations for the signing of the EU agreement.
Aid in exchange for reform
The April summit is expected to address Poroshenko’s request for European peacekeepers to help monitor the truce between Kyiv and pro-Russian rebels, aimed at ending nearly a year of fighting.
Officials will also discuss a possible aid boost for Ukraine’s struggling economy, the statement said.
The European Parliament on Wednesday formally approved new economic aid worth €1.8 billion for Ukraine, two-thirds of which could be disbursed by the end of the 2015.
The EU cash was offered as part of an International Monetary Fund programme aimed at mobilising up to $40 billion.
The IMF has already approved a $17.5 billion loan as part of the package in exchange for the government’s successful implementation of political and economic reforms.
This week, two top officials were arrested for corruption on live TV at a government meeting.
Also, powerful oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, widely credited for helping halt the rebel advance, lost his job as a regional governor following a row over his role at two state oil companies.
Armed men believed to be working on Kolomoisky’s behalf temporarily took over the Kyiv headquarters of both firms, forcing Poroshenko to sack the billionaire from his political role in the key central region of Dnipropetrovsk.
President Poroshenko told Ukraine’s Inter TV on Saturday that he was in the process of weakening the oligarchs’ grip on the country, adding that he “would not allow a repetition of the chaos in Kyiv in any city”.
Both Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk are expected to attend the Kyiv summit, according to reports.
Brussels has also imposed heavy economic sanctions on Moscow, which is accused of sending weapons and troops in support of the pro-Russian rebels.
Moscow has denied any such involvement in the conflict that has cost more than 6,000 lives since April 2014.
EU leaders have stressed that the sanctions will stay in place unless there is clear evidence that the ceasefire, brokered by French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was being observed.