Ukraine vows swift end to political crisis, wins EU offer of visa-free travel

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 17, 2016 8:57 AM

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Ukraine's president tried to reassure the European Union on Thursday that his country would soon overcome a political crisis that has rattled Western lenders and he won support for Kiev's cherished goal of visa-free travel in Europe for its citizens.

Ukraine's unpopular prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence last month but three parties have quit his coalition and Western creditors who are keeping Ukraine's economy afloat are frustrated with the slow pace of reforms.

"We have a political crisis in Ukraine and I hope that by the end of the month we will find a solution," President Petro Poroshenko told reporters, alongside European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

"There will be no early parliamentary elections and the political coalition will remain, will be responsible, orientated on reforms," Poroshenko said, adding that an EU-Ukraine summit would be held on May 19.

Western donors, including the EU and the United States, are urging Kiev's leaders to remain unified to pass reforms needed to secure a further $1.7 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund and to do much more to tackle rampant corruption.

Diplomats said Tusk and Juncker had repeated this message to Poroshenko on Thursday, arguing against new elections which would only further delay the reforms. These include combating money laundering and setting up an asset register for public officials to declare their wealth.

Some EU officials said the political bickering in Kiev meant there was less political support in Brussels for Ukraine than six months ago.

"Poroshenko needs to decide whether he is one of the old oligarchs or part of the new guard," said one EU official of the president, one of Ukraine's richest men and owner of a sweets empire. "I don't think he has made up his mind yet."

VISAS

In happier news for Kiev, Juncker said the European Commission would formally propose next month exempting Ukrainians from needing visas to visit the EU. The proposal would have to be approved by the EU's 28 national governments and the European Parliament.

The promise of visa-free travel could yet face hurdles as Georgia, Kosovo and Turkey are all seeking the same prize. Some in Europe, notably Germany, are wary about opening the door to millions of non-EU travelers when the continent is facing its worst migration crisis since World War Two.

The step would be the most tangible sign for Ukrainians that their 2014 Western-backed uprising against a pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich, is finally paying dividends.

After Yanukovich fled to Russia, Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and gave support to separatist rebels in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine in a conflict in which more than 9,000 people have been killed and is still simmering.

Moscow denies sending arms or troops into Ukraine.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones)