Members' Research Service By / April 7, 2016

Ukraine — in limbo between crisis and transformation? [Policy Podcast]

Written by Naja Bentzen, When Ukraine’s then President Viktor Yanukovich caved in to Russian pressure and refused to sign the…

© peteri / Fotolia

Written by Naja Bentzen,

Situation in Ukraine
© peteri / Fotolia

When Ukraine’s then President Viktor Yanukovich caved in to Russian pressure and refused to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in 2013, he involuntarily sparked the ‘revolution of dignity’ that paved the way for his own ousting on 22 February 2014, igniting hope for a European future. Today — more than two years after the Euromaidan revolution, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the eruption of the conflict in eastern Ukraine — the country is still at a crossroads between war and peace; between corruption and reform; between crisis and transformation, between past, present and future.

Listen to podcast:Ukraine [Policy Podcast]


Russia launched its hybrid war against Ukraine to prevent the country from moving towards the EU and escaping Russia’s sphere of influence. Since the crisis erupted in March 2014, more than 9 000 people have been killed, nearly 21 000 people have been wounded and 1.1 million have been displaced. Progress in the implementation of the Minsk II agreement — negotiated by the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia in February 2015 — has been very limited.

At the same time, however, Ukraine has taken several steps towards Europe. The EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area was signed on 27 June 2014 as part of the Association Agreement (AA) and came into force on 1 January 2016. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced in March 2016 a legislative proposal to lift visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens with a biometric passport would be presented in April 2016.

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Despite much-needed steps to tackle the country’s endemic corruption problems (the country ranks 130 out of 168 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2015), the reform process is still facing a number of obstacles. Ukraine has been in political limbo since one of its key reformers, Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavičius resigned on 3 February, citing high-level corruption and accusing senior government officials associated with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arsenyi Yatseniuk of blocking reform. Meanwhile, Poroshenko — who has made ‘de-oligarchization’ a focal point of his anti-corruption campaigns — is under pressure after leaked documents suggested that he had set up an offshore company using Panamanian company Mossack Fonseca.

Amid this fluid political situation and given the severe additional external and internal pressure on Kyiv — power outages caused by unprecedented cyber-attacks which are further exacerbating the precarious security situation; the dire economic situation; the on-going aggressive Russian disinformation campaign; the split within the EU vis-à-vis the Russia-backed ‘Nord Stream 2’ gas pipeline; the challenges related to the 6 April Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement; and the 22-year jail sentence given to Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko by a Russian court after finding her guilty of involvement in the death of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine in June 2014, to name but a few — the need for strong democratic institutions is particularly urgent.

Strong support from the European Parliament on Ukraine

The European Parliament has consistently supported Ukraine’s transformation and democratisation process. The simultaneous ratification of the Association Agreement by the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) and the European Parliament on 16 September 2014 was a highly symbolic act and a significant sign of solidarity with Ukraine. In line with the Memorandum of Understanding on a joint framework for parliamentary support and capacity building — signed by EP President Martin Schulz and Volodymyr Groysman, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, on 3 July 2015 — former EP President Pat Cox presented a report and a roadmap on capacity-building for reform on 29 February, kicking off a three-days high-level conference. The ‘Ukraine Week’ brought more than 40 Ukrainian parliamentarians, including the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada, together with MEPs, national MPs and representatives from other EU institutions to share experience on good parliamentary practice, law-making and representation. The next step will be the implementation of the report’s recommendations, which is currently being planned.

Supporting Ukraine’s reform process is key to long-term stability, and the country’s part in the European security puzzle remains crucial. According to US historian Timothy Snyder, the history of Ukraine has revealed the turning points in the history of Europe. He concludes that ‘Ukraine has no future without Europe, but Europe also has no future without Ukraine’. Just like past, future and present are inextricably intertwined, the distinction between the EU and ‘non-EU Europe’, including Ukraine, is — to paraphrase Albert Einstein — only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

Read our briefings on:

Ukraine: What to watch for in 2016

Ukraine and the Minsk II agreement: On a frozen path to peace?

Russia’s disinformation on Ukraine and the EU’s response

Understanding propaganda and disinformation

Timeline on Ukraine Conflict
Timeline on Ukraine Conflict


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