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EU-Ukraine Summit strengthens ties while war with Russia continues

An EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv has reaffirmed key political and economic ties as well as projecting a show of unity in condemning Russian aggression.

The president of the European Council Donald Tusk met with newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in what was the first set of in-depth talks between the two leaders. European Commission president Jean Claude Junker was also present, along with other EU and Ukrainian representatives. 

The EU-Ukrainian partnership is built on the Association Agreement and focuses on developing political relationships and economic integration. Mr Junker reiterated this, stating: “The European Union’s partnership with Ukraine is one of mutual solidarity and friendship. It is also one that is flourishing: we have achieved more progress together in the last five years than we did in the two decades before. Ukraine has taken up ambitious reform commitments. The EU, in turn, has provided Ukraine with unprecedented support, from financial and expert support, to autonomous trade measures, and almost three million visa-free visits to the EU for Ukrainian citizens to date. This, alongside continued unity on sanctions, shows the EU’s commitment to Ukraine – one that remains unwavering.”

The EU has committed 119 million euros towards supporting the reform process in Ukraine. This will focus on developing accountable and efficient governance as well as modernising and diversifying the economy. The EU congratulated Ukraine on its increasing efforts to fight corruption but agreed more needed to be done. Both parties also emphasised the importance of Ukraine’s growing economic and social ties with the EU. Free trade was a big focus, as bilateral trade increased by 49 per cent since January 2016 while the EU vocalised its wish to further widen economic cooperation with Ukraine. 

On the topic of Russian aggression, the EU reiterated its condemnation, stating that it does not and will not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea. It called for Russia to release 23 Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner last year, as well as all Ukrainians illegally imprisoned in Russia, including filmmaker and writer Oleh Sentsov. Both parties deepened their commitment to Russian sanctions while calling for Russia to fully implement the Minsk Agreement, although it is increasingly unlikely Mr Putin will back down. Mr Tusk specifically condemned Russia’s offer of citizenship to Ukrainians, saying, “Ukraine can count on the EU”, reaffirming the EU’s support for Ukraine against Russia. This comes after the recent readmission of Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which was strongly opposed by Ukraine yet supported by the majority of members. 

In order to assist Ukraine in the Donbass War, the EU agreed to provide 17.7 million euros in humanitarian aid including healthcare, shelters, repairs, water and education. Since the war began in 2014 it has affected over 4.4 million people, with 3.4 million of those in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates. 

Immediately after the summit, Mr Zelensky announced via video on social media that he wants to meet with President Putin in the Belarusian capital Minsk, “I suggest the following line-up for talks: me, you, US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel [and] French President Emmanuel Macron.” The proposed discussions would focus on ending the five-year war as well as the future of the annexed territories. The Kremlin has declined to respond to the proposal, echoing the notion that the Russian president refuses to see Mr Zelensky as his equal, according to Deutsche Welle analyst Nick Connolly. 

Photo: Mykola Lazarenko / Ukrainian Presidency