EU Membership Kiev's Top Goal, Say Senior Officials

WASHINGTON, DC -- Senior Ukrainian officials are leaving no doubt that their government's main strategic priority is for Ukraine to become a full member of the European Union.

Pavlo Klimkin

Pavlo Klimkin, Ukrainian deputy foreign minister, told a conference in Washington, on 7 July, that the final sticking point in his government's ongoing talks with the EU to sign a free trade agreement was precisely Ukraine's "European perspective" - diplomatic code for EU accession.

"One day, Ukraine should be a member of the EU," he said.

For its part, the EU has thus far not agreed to designate Ukraine either as candidate or potential candidate for membership.

Instead, the EU is focused on the free trade agreement talks, which it aims to wrap up in December 2011, and on possible visa liberalisation with Ukraine should the latter meet various strict conditions.

Speaking at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Minister Klimkin asserted that Ukraine's integration with the EU "should not hurt good relations with Russia".

But he also made clear that Kiev was not interested in economic integration with Russia.

More specifically, he said that a Russia-Ukraine customs union, which Moscow is touting, was "not on the agenda".

Similarly, Andriy Fialko, foreign policy advisor to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, said Ukraine's future membership of NATO was also "off the agenda" as his government felt that it was not realistically deliverable.

CORRUPTION, AUTOCRACY CLAIMS

Some experts at the conference argued that high levels of corruption in Ukraine plus recent backsliding on democracy were undermining its chances of joining the EU.

"Moving toward Europe while emasculating the political opposition" were "contradictory goals," said the Atlantic Council's Vice-President, Damon Wilson.

From the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Olga Shumylo-Tapiola said that Ukraine had become more politically and economically stable over the past year but there had also been a concentration of power.

"About ten people control all the economy," she said, while adding that voters in Ukraine "care more about bread and butter issues than democracy and freedom".

From the US Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, Jorge Zukoski described the country as "a success story waiting to happen".

He said the quality of dialogue between the government and the business community in Ukraine had improved since the Yanukovych administration came to power in February 2010.

Defending his government's record, Minister Klimkin said that the current wave of administrative reforms in Ukraine were "not about centralisation" and that "there is political consensus" on the need for them.

While he accepted that corruption was "one of the most difficult underlying problems," Klimkin denied that his government was only prosecuting its political opponents for corruption and he cited a case against a top official in Crimea as evidence.

Source: Europolitics

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