BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - The European Union delivered formal congratulations to Ukraine's novice president-elect on Monday but made clear it expects TV comic Volodymyr Zelenskiy to pursue halting reforms, including fighting corruption.
In a joint letter as Zelenskiy's landslide victory over President Petro Poroshenko was confirmed, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised the conduct of the election even though parts of Ukraine remain under the control of pro-Russian forces.
But they stressed that five years after Poroshenko was elected in the wake of a popular revolt against a Moscow-aligned predecessor, Ukraine still had a long way to go to deliver on people's demands for peace, democracy and prosperity.
"Significant progress has been made in the five years since Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity," they wrote. "And much remains to be accomplished to fully realize the peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ukraine that its citizens have called for."
They added: "You can count on the EU's strong support to Ukraine's reform path, including consolidating the rule of law, fighting corruption, maintaining macro financial stability and pursuing the essential reform of the energy sector."
Proposing an early meeting with Zelenskiy, Tusk, a former Polish premier who chairs summits of EU national leaders, and Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister who heads the bloc's executive, said further steps to implement Kyiv's trade and political pact with the Union could provide "crucial" help.
That agreement, seen by the Kremlin as shifting the biggest of Moscow's Soviet-era satellites toward the West, was a notable factor in the events which culminated with pro-EU leaders installed in Kiev, Russia's seizure of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and pro-Kremlin separatists taking over Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
Tusk and Juncker also told Zelenskiy: "You can also count on the EU's continued and steadfast support of Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
The European Union has invested heavily, in both economic and political terms, in Ukraine, seeing it as a potential model for other post-communist neighbors and a bulwark against a Russia seen as a growing threat, especially by the EU member states which spent decades under the control of Moscow.
While the 28-member bloc has maintained a fragile unity in maintaining sanctions against Russia, it has also grown frustrated with continued corruption and democratic failings in Ukraine.