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Visa free travel for Ukraine not a done deal yet

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Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko arrives for the NATO summit at the PGE National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko was in Brussels Wednesday looking for assurances on trade and visa-free travel. His visit is the first to the European capital after the election of Donald Trump as the new US president.


Poroshenko hopes that his visit will reinforce diplomatic ties with the EU, given things may change once Trump takes office. The reaction in Ukraine to his victory on November 8th was one of shock.

The current government in Ukraine has a lot to thank the US state department for, especially the support it received from the hawkish deputy for European affairs, Victoria Nuland, a protégé of Hillary Clinton.

Nuland actively supported the Maidan protests that toppled the government of Victor Yanukowich in 2014.

But during the Donald Trump election campaign, he repeatedly talked favorably of Russian president Vladimir Putin to the dismay of many in the Ukraine.

“We are worried about some statements of Mr. Trump during his election campaign,” said Alexei Ryabchin, a member of parliament for the opposition Fatherland party.

“But we rely on the American democratic system and American institutions. We have a long relationship with the US and we feel comfortable with the situation right now and we will demand even more support for the Ukraine in order to protect the European border from the Russian aggressor."

Ryabchin agrees with the sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of the Crimea and the help provided to rebels in two eastern provinces, Donetsk, and Luhansk:

“It is not us who annexed Crimea,” he says. “It is not Ukraine that gave up its territory. It is Russia that attacked us.

“So the sanctions are related to international order, international law. And the sanctions, I hope will be supported until Russia will behave the way a country should behave.”

“So it is not about the Ukrainian situation. It is about Russia in relation to the international order. It means that if the EU or America will show weakness, it will be much, much worse.”

The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, was in Brussels on Thurdsay and EU has demanded political reform in exchange for visa-free travel.

Visa-free travel

He met with European Council President Donald Tusk and president of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker.  

There is quite a lot of anger in Kiev, where lawmakers say that they already looked into all the demands of the EU.

“The Ukrainian parliament adopted all the required laws that Europe demanded,” says Ryabchin.

“We did it last November. And for us, as members of parliament, and for Ukrainians, it is not quite clear why we, while we are suffering from the war with Russia, but we are not receiving what we were promised: the visa-free regime.

“It is really surprising that Ukrainians should need visa to go for a short trip to Europe. It is not about taking some job places, it is not about our Euro-integration, it is about the right of the people of Ukraine to travel to Europe. We are not satisfied by the level of promises that were fulfilled by Europe,” he says.

But corruption is not the main issue for the EU.

“I don’t think that the corruption has a great impact on possible migration flows from Ukraine to the EU,” says Vasily Astrov, an economist with the Vienna Institute.

“This may grow in importance if the EU grants a visa-free regime to Ukrainians. The real reason behind this is simply the huge difference in the level of development and the wage levels. Of course a lot of this migration would be economic migration. It is an elephant in the room,” he says.

The Ukrainian president was offered hope in a November 17 EU meeting where member stated unanimously decided to grant visa free travel for Ukraine, but this still has to be discussed by the European parliament where many are divided on the issue.

However, according to Poroshenko, who didn’t want to comment on inter-European politics “they are close to a compromise.”

Meanwhile, Hungary announced that it will immediately begin granting national long-stay visas to citizens of Ukraine despite not yet having final approval of the European Union.

"After the three hard years that Ukraine has gone through in the name of European values, the EU has a moral obligation to grant visa-free access to Ukraine," said Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban after meeting Ukraine's Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.