Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says his country will apply for membership in the European Union in 2020 as part of a broader plan for social and economic reforms.
Speaking Thursday at a press conference in Kyiv, Poroshenko said the planned reforms, consisting of 60 separate initiatives, will prepare Ukraine to join the 28-nation bloc.
"Anti-corruption reform, judicial reform, reform of the defense system, decentralization of power, energy independence are the priorities," said Poroshenko who earlier this month signed an Association Agreement with the EU. He said he hopes that legislative elections set for next month will result in a pro-reform parliamentary majority.
The spurning late last year of closer EU ties by Poroshenko's predecessor, Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych, sparked massive anti-government protests which in February led to his ouster and flight to Russia. Moscow, in what Kyiv and the West have seen as retaliatory moves, subsequently annexed Ukraine's Crimea and orchestrated a separatist rebellion in the country's east as part of efforts to destabilize Ukraine. Russia denies the charge.
The EU, the U.S. and a number of other Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict.
Apparently in response to Poroshenko's statement on Kyiv's pursuit of EU membership, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday Ukraine should resolve all its problems with Moscow before moving to join the EU, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Poroshenko also said Thursday he expects to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin within the next three weeks as part of a "multilateral" meeting, adding that a one-on-one enounter is also possible. He said he believes there has been a "transformation" in Russia's aims in relation to Ukraine.
Blasting Putin at UNGA
In contrast, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, addressing what is seen as Russia's aggression, late Wednesday appealed to the international community to keep sanctions against Moscow in place until Kyiv regains "control of its entire territory," including Crimea.
In a speech in New York before the U.N. General Assembly, Yatsenyuk also delivered a direct message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Mr. Putin, you can win the fight against the troops, but you will never win the fight against the nation - united Ukrainian nation," he said, referring to the conflict in Ukraine's east which to date has claimed an estimated 3,000 lives.
Yatsenyuk said that Russia has violated international laws by invading parts of Ukrainian territory, by arming pro-Russian insurgents and annexing Crimea.
Commenting on Yatsenyuk’s speech, Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaliy Churkin called it “melodramatic” and misguided.
“It’s strange that Ukraine’s PM, instead of solving the multiple problems of his country, which is nearing economic collapse, has come to New York to speak in front of a half-empty General Assembly room,” Churkin told journalists.
Earlier Wednesday, the Ukrainian prime minister expressed skepticism about the current cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels, calling it extremely fragile and shaky. He said Ukraine could easily deter separatists and restore peace in the country on its own, if it wasn't for Russia's direct intervention.
Although Moscow denies it, Ukraine and the West claim there has been ample evidence of Russian military support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine, and the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil. NATO says that, despite signs of some recent withdrawals, Russian troops remain there.
‘We need to stop him in Ukraine’
Expressing concern about Putin’s long-term plans, Lithuania’s president says that a lack of a strong unified response to the Ukraine crisis, is only emboldening the Russian leader to go further, and that not even NATO’s collective defense principle, Article 5, will deter him.
“It will not stop Putin from his plans if he does not see real actions from the European and world leaders. They are only talking. We need to stop him in Ukraine,” said Dalia Grybauskaite in an interview with the Washington Post published late Wednesday.
Grybauskaite, whose country, along with its two Baltic neighbors Estonia and Latvia, spent half a century under Moscow’s rule, said that the West, despite sanctions it imposed on Russia, is in effect appeasing Putin.
“Why are we so busy trying not to offend Putin, who is today sending his troops to kill and occupy Ukrainian territory?... We, with open eyes, are allowing the partition of Ukraine,” said Grybauskaite, warning that it could be a precursor for Russian intervention elsewhere in the post-Soviet space.
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia all have large minorities of ethnic Russians. The Kremlin used a self-proclaimed mandate to protect ethnic Russians as a pretext for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
All three Baltic countries are members of NATO. They are the only former Soviet republics to have joined the alliance. Ukraine is a NATO partner but not a member.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.