BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union and Ukraine share strategic interests, the European Commission’s president said on Tuesday, and he called for patience and determination as Ukraine tries to align itself with western Europe.
The EU is watching with a wary eye as Ukraine’s incoming president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, prepares to take office. It has backed Ukraine’s pro-European aspirations, but Zelenskiy is an unknown quantity, a comedian with no political experience.
He will need to deal with Moscow, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and began supporting a rebellion in eastern Ukraine that killed more than 10,000 people and still simmers.
Speaking at an event marking a decade of the Eastern Partnership, an EU project with Ukraine and five other post-communist countries on its eastern border, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the strategic interests of Ukraine and the EU are “exactly the same”.
“Let’s replace the use of arms by the rule of law, this is something we must strive for every day,” Juncker said. “And we must also put an end to bilateral conflicts between different countries of eastern Europe.
“So that all conflicts – frozen or not – come to an end, we have to have peace in our immediate neighbourhood. Otherwise we won’t be able to mobilise all the energies that we could to make progress towards cohesion among our countries.”
Juncker and his aides say the Eastern Partnership has already delivered through simplified procedures some 3.8 million visas to citizens of the six states, which also include Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova.
Some 80,000 students from the six will have been able to take part in Erasmus, the EU’s university exchange programme, and trade flows between the bloc and the group reached 74 billion euros in 2018, they said.
The EU leaders’ chairman, Donald Tusk, last week told reporters Zelenskiy had declared to him that he would pursue reforms to strengthen democracy in Ukraine, but not enough time had passed to test the new Ukrainian president’s vow.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Larry King)