Corruption and the conflict with Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s east will top the agenda when a summit between that country and the European Union takes place Monday in Brussels.
In May, the EU agreed to a $1.2 billion financial assistance package for Ukraine. The International Monetary Fund and EU are demanding deeper reforms to governance and the judiciary in return for the money; however, reforms to the court system have stalled, says Andrew Wilson, professor of Ukrainian studies at University College London.
“You have what’s called the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. It’s totally separate from the corrupt police. It can do its job well. It’s independent. But it can’t actually put bad guys in jail without reform to the courts. They do their work, the courts just let the bad guys go.”
“Ukraine is being asked to set up a separate anti-corruption court. It’s kind of set up a fake version that nobody believes would be independent. So that’s the key stumbling block,” Wilson told VOA in an interview.
WATCH: EU Demands Deep Reforms Ahead of Summit, Some Ukrainians Question Benefits
Focus on elections
That stumbling block to a closer relationship between Ukraine and the EU may be difficult to overcome in coming months, says Anastasia Voronkova of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
“With the main preoccupation of the Ukrainian government right now being the forthcoming 2019 elections, it’s very unclear how all the challenges will be met,” she said.
Nearly a year ago, the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was signed after repeated delays. For many Ukrainians, it offered the hope of economic opportunity and the rule of law, after decades of slow growth and corruption.
“The early signs are that exports to the EU are beginning to expand, but not enough really to float the economy off the rocks. So, there are some signs of disillusion because Ukraine hasn’t got more,” Wilson said.
Crimea on agenda
The EU will use the summit to reaffirm its backing for Ukraine’s territorial integrity after the grouping extended sanctions against Russia last week.
“External pressure can help, in particular perhaps to prevent a strong escalation of the conflict. But it won’t on its own be sufficient to really do anything meaningful to resolve the conflict,” Voronkova said.
The White House this week said there is no change in U.S. policy on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The United States has provided Kyiv with $350 million in lethal and non-lethal military aid this year, including so-called “Javelin” anti-tank missiles.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet in Helsinki July 16, with Ukraine likely a key subject of the talks.