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2021.07.08 13:00

Ukraine prime minister: we expect to join EU in 5 to 10 years – interview

Andrius Balčiūnas, LRT.lt2021.07.08 13:00

Vilnius is hosting the Ukraine Reform Conference this week to discuss the country's progress in implementing reforms. In an interview for LRT.lt, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal discusses the country's progress and aspirations, saying Kyiv hopes to join the EU and NATO within a decade.

“I am convinced that by strengthening our joint efforts, we can successfully counter the Kremlin and destroy its plans and aggressive political goals in Ukraine and in Europe as a whole,” according to Shmyhal.

The Ukrainian prime minister responded to questions from LRT.lt in writing.

What is the current status of the administrative reforms in Ukraine? What is the role that Western partners play in the reform implementation?

The government continues to implement comprehensive reforms virtually in all the domains. They are not only enshrined in the policy papers, such as the Government's Action Program and the National Economic Strategy until 2030, but their outcomes can already be seen right here and right now.

In particular, it is the completion of administrative and territorial reform, digitalization, land reform, public-private partnerships, transformation of coal regions, the introduction of a defined contribution pension system, stock market establishment and many more. There are results in each of the domains.

Holding an event of this scale outside Ukraine is a sign that we remain open to the reforms, and we have something to share already about what has been done, what is being done and what will be done, in particular with the support of our international partners. We hope for further active international community engagement in the reform process in Ukraine.

There has been considerable concern for the rule of law when the Constitutional Court blocked some reforms and possible politically motivated prosecution of former president Petro Poroshenko. Is Ukraine ready to guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

The independence of the judiciary is an integral component to ensure the rule of law in the country. Moreover, the independence of the judiciary is enshrined in the Constitution and is both a guarantee of citizens' trust in the judiciary and an important element of its sustainability.

The comprehensive work of the government, the president and the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] is aimed at ensuring the rule of law in the country, as well as the rights and freedoms of every citizen. This is primarily manifested by supporting and securing the anti-corruption reforms, as well as in the consistent implementation of the judicial reform. There is a clear strategy for reforming the judiciary, which was approved by the president in his decree.

The parliament recently passed the Bill No. 113711-D. It is an important one in the context of the judicial reform amending the Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges, which plans to give a new start to the High Qualifications Commission of Judges with a crucial role played by international experts. This will restore the brand new and independent HQCJ. The president and our international partners stressed the importance of resuming the work of this body.

Regarding the reforms blocked by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, the government cannot interfere with the Court. But we believe it was wrong to make decisions that slowed down the country's European course and our anti-corruption reforms.

In particular, this had to do with such crucial reforms as the electronic asset declarations and land reform. Following the decision of the CCU to abolish criminal liability for false declarations, the Cabinet of Ministers promptly adopted a decision that enabled the NACP to provide open access to the state register of asset declarations and conduct background checks. At present, criminal liability for false declarations has been restored by the efforts of all branches of government.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Ukraine hard, but vaccination is still slower than in some other countries. Lithuania, together with other EU member states, has already provided support with vaccines. Is any additional assistance needed?

The pandemic has hit many countries around the world, not just Ukraine. A large number of countries have faced the challenge with vaccine supplies, and the majority of manufacturers simply did not have time to meet the demand internationally.

Now the situation is different. Thanks to the coordinated work of the president of Ukraine and the government, as well as with the support of our international partners, including through the COVAX mechanism, Ukraine has arranged to supply a sufficient number of safe vaccines for all Ukrainians.

In Ukraine, the vaccination campaign is steadily gaining momentum. The network of vaccination centres is constantly expanding, and most importantly – more and more people are willing to be vaccinated, as the relevant opinion polls have shown recently.

As of July 5, 2021, more than 2.9 million doses of vaccines have been used in Ukraine. About 850,000 people are now fully vaccinated. Every day the figure is growing.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the countries and organisations that have provided and continue to provide support to Ukraine in providing vaccines. We also thank Lithuania for providing Ukraine with 100,000 doses of the vaccine.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces are being reformed, and military exercises are constantly being conducted together with Western partners. Could you say Ukraine is now much better prepared to defend itself and deter possible aggression from Russia?

It can be said confidently that Ukraine is able to give a decent response to any aggression against our country. The Ukrainian army is currently one of the most professional and powerful on the European continent. This is not only the merit of Ukraine, but it is also the result of cooperation with NATO members.

A striking example is the training of our troops at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center. Since 2015, more than 19,000 troops have been trained by instructors from the Combat Training Center together with NATO Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine instructors. This is a huge figure that demonstrates our excellent interaction.

Equally important for strengthening Ukraine's defence capabilities is the joint exercises with Ukraine's strategic partners. Among the largest are the joint Ukrainian-American exercises Rapid Trident and Sea Breeze. By the way, this year's Sea Breeze 2021 is the largest drill in history, and I also want to thank your country for participating in these exercises.

Such drills testify to the extraordinary support provided to Ukraine. Not only do they strengthen our armed forces, but also improve interoperability according to NATO standards. Our Euro-Atlantic integration is not only a geopolitical, but also a value choice for Ukraine. Moreover, this direction is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is nearing completion, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has already mentioned the possible use of the pipeline to put pressure on Kyiv over the war on Donbas. In your opinion, is it possible to avoid this project becoming a political tool in the hands of the Kremlin?

Nord Stream 2 is the Kremlin's energy weapon targeted not only against Ukraine but also against Europe and the United States. This is not only an economic project for gas expansionism, but it is an additional lever for Moscow’s amplified political bargaining power. This project is destructive for everyone in the long run, because it contains a number of threats, primarily security-wise.

Therefore, we do and will continue to oppose the implementation of this project and will engage as many parties as possible in this process.

The fact that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is in its final development stage shall not mean that we should stop taking measures against its commissioning. Even if Nord Stream works, the competent EU authorities have the option to restrict Gazprom's use of the OPAL and EUGAL pipelines, which are terrestrial extensions of both Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 in accordance with the requirements of the EU’s Third Energy Package.

I am convinced that by strengthening our joint efforts, we can successfully counter the Kremlin and destroy its plans and aggressive political goals in Ukraine and in Europe as a whole.

What is Ukraine’s attitude to the proposals of some European countries to engage in a dialogue with the Kremlin?

Since the relevant proposals began to be heard, our response has been very prompt. In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately began to clarify the opinions and convey the idea of impossibility of resuming the dialogue with Russia in the format of joint summits, as Russia has not yet taken constructive steps forward. Moreover, Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine.

Despite reports of a possible rapprochement with Russia, we have seen exactly the opposite. For the first time in recent years, European Union member states have unanimously agreed on stricter economic sanctions against Russia. In the case of future subversive actions by the Russian Federation, new restrictive measures may be applied. We welcome the recent decision of the European Council to extend economic sanctions against Russia until January 2022.

When do you expect Ukraine to start the EU accession process?

Ukraine aspires to join the EU and NATO in the near future, and we aim for the membership in 5 to 10 years. An important issue for Ukraine’s European future is the consistent implementation of reforms, which we continue to work on and have significant progress. Of course, the issue of Ukraine's accession to the EU depends not only on ourselves, but also on the other 27 countries.

The European Union annually presents the EU-Ukraine Association Implementation Report, which assesses Ukraine's progress in implementing reforms under the Agreement. According to our partners, even under difficult conditions last year and despite Russia's destabilizing actions, the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, Ukraine continues to show progress on its path to reforms.

That is, our movement towards Ukraine's EU membership does not stop. At present, one of our main goals is a gradual integration into the EU's internal market.

The European Union has already become our main trade partner. Exports of Ukrainian goods to the European Union have grown by 60 percent over the last five years and are expected to reach 20 billion euros this year.

We are now striving for further trade liberalisation with the EU, and one of our main priorities over the past year has been to prepare for updating the trade part of the Association Agreement. We also continue our work in the context of Ukraine's integration into the digital and energy markets of the European Union. We are working on signing industrial, common aviation and customs visa-free regimes.

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