Ukraine’s president has said his country will apply for European Union membership in six years’ time, saying the only alternative would be to be “left alone with Russia”.
Petro Poroshenko explained he had a development strategy that would allow the war-torn country to make a bid for EU membership in 2020.
“The 2020 strategy plan aims to build a new country and we have very little time,” said the president yesterday. “The aim of our ambitious reforms is to achieve European living standards and in the year 2020 to apply for European Union membership. I’m not giving you a promise, but I’m telling you that we can do it together.
“The alternative is to remain alone with Russia,” warned Mr Poroshenko.
The Ukrainian president also said the “most dangerous part of the war” with Russian-backed forces in the east of the country had passed, and that he had “no doubt” a peace plan would work.
Moscow has bitterly opposed Ukraine developing stronger relations with the West, regarding the old Soviet republic as an inseparable part of its sphere of influence.
Earlier this month, Ukraine and the EU moved closer together when both ratified an association agreement, despite Moscow’s displeasure.
But for Kiev to countenance EU membership is an ambitious step.
Even before the war in eastern Ukraine and the political turmoil that gripped the country in early 2014, many in the EU were unhappy with the rampant corruption and slow pace of economic reforms that not only characterised Ukraine but provided the West with reasons to keep the eastern European country at arms’ length.
A new government, the conflict with Russian-backed forces and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean region diluted some of the EU’s exasperation with Kiev and instilled sympathy for it, but Mr Poroshenko acknowledged the country had a lot of work to do, if its pleas for membership are to be taken seriously.
“Yes, we have moved away from tyranny, confirmed our European choice and survived the fight with the external enemy. But the internal challenge is just as important,” he said. “Corruption, poverty and economic weakness is our biggest threat.”
The president said the strategy contained 60 reforms and programmes aimed at preparing the country for EU membership, with fighting corruption a major priority.
Despite the overthrow of former president Viktor Yanukovich and a new government, many Ukrainians have been left frustrated at the lack of any obvious progress in the war on corruption.
Mr Poroshenko said he hoped parliamentary elections scheduled for October should result in a new parliament and government capable of pushing through his programme.
Russia will probably remain a significant opponent of any attempts by Ukraine to gain membership of the EU, but the Mr Poroshenko said he expected to hold a meeting with Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, sometime in the next three weeks although he failed to specify a venue.
While Mr Poroshenko appears willing to engage with Russia, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s prime minister, urged the West to keep the pressure on Russia.
He said: “We ask our partners not to lift sanctions until Ukraine takes over control of its entire territory.”