European Union leaders will praise Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday for his reform efforts but behind the scenes the EU is losing patience over Kiev’s slow fight against corruption and the intractable conflict in the country’s east. Three years after a pro-EU uprising overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Poroshenko will be in Brussels for an EU-Ukraine summit where he will be told he must do more to earn closer relations with the bloc.
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“3 years since EuroMaidan,” European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter, referring to the 2014 street revolt, ahead of the summit. “Ukraine on right track under President Poroshenko’s leadership. EU support remains strong.” The former Soviet republic’s aspirations to closer relations with the West have exacted a high cost.
Scores were killed during clashes between protesters and Ukrainian security forces. Shortly after President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and went on to back a pro-Russian insurgency in east Ukraine.
The EU slapped sanctions on Russia over Ukraine but the conflict in the industrial east – which killed nearly 10,000 people to date – remains unresolved and peace efforts led by Germany and France have stalled for nearly two years now.
The West says Russia is driving the revolt, though Moscow denies that. Germany and France invited Ukraine and Russia to another joint meeting on the crisis next week.
In Ukraine, some already feel the EU has not shown enough support in their confrontation with Russia and are worried that promises by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to mend Washington’s ties with Moscow could come at their expense.
GRAFT STILL RAMPANT
EU leaders will applaud Poroshenko for carrying out some energy, economic and police reforms under these difficult circumstances. But corruption remains rife in Ukraine, with a crony culture that tacitly allowed bureaucrats to amass wealth.
A key reform obliging officials to declare their wealth recently revealed they hold millions of dollars in cash, have fleets of luxury cars, expensive Swiss watches, diamond jewellery and large tracts of land.
The shock revelations not only upset the EU but also undermined Poroshenko’s backing at home. EU leaders at the summit are also expected to dub Ukraine the bloc’s strategic partner in gas transit, a message to Russia which has strived for years to sell more of its gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine, including by the Nord Stream pipeline.
Brussels says Ukraine’s exports to the EU rose 5.2 percent since an agreement on closer political and trade relations entered force at the start of this year. But the future of that partnership is uncertain after Dutch voters rejected it in a referendum earlier this year.
While the pact is being provisionally applied, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is hoping to negotiate extra legal assurances by mid-December – stating among other things that EU states are not obliged to prop up Kiev financially or grant employment to Ukrainian citizens – that would allow his parliament to override the negative referendum result.
That could prove difficult. The EU has also dragged its feet on granting visa-free travel to Ukraine, mainly due to hesitation from Germany and France, which both face elections next year in which increasing anti-immigration feeling will be a burning issue.