As part of the EU accession process Ukraine, as with any aspiring member, will be required to bring its infrastructure up to EU standards.
This can be a mammoth task, but through pre-Accession funding the bloc can make available significant resources and expertise.
EU candidate countries are also able to participate in EU programs, agencies, and committees, as determined on a case-by-case basis, to help them become more familiar with EU policies and to facilitate cooperation.
However, unfortunately, and despite the significant goodwill in Brussels and the member state capitals, Ukraine has the reputation – somewhat deservedly, many would say – of being a corrupt society, with its government and civil structures being held in the sway of the notorious oligarchs.
However, there are voices in the higher levels of the Ukrainian business community who recognise this, who understand the threat that this corruption brings to Ukraine’s EU aspirations, and who are prepared to speak out.
One such person is Ukrainian industrialist and founder of the AURUM Group, Alona Lebedieva. Commenting in the influential Brussels Report recently she highlighted the dangers of Ukraine’s continued reliance on Russia for development of of transport and logistics infrastructure.
Even following Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukrainian territory, the functioning of Ukrainian railways depended heavily on Russian standards, rules and regulations for the operation of rolling stock, the organization of production, etc.
As a direct result of the process of Ukraine’s integration into the EU however, Ukraine has finally begun the process of abandoning the old Soviet standards – GOSTs.
From now on Ukrainian enterprises will receive a “temporary conditional number” in Kyiv from the Research and Design and Technology Institute of Railway Transport (hereinafter – NDKTI) of Ukrzaliznytsia.
However Ukraine appears to be in no hurry to establish its own production of railway components that were historically produced on the territory of the aggressor state.
The primary reason for the delay in setting up home production is the lack of approved technical documentation from Ukrzaliznytsia, noted Alona Lebedieva: “The question is one of betrayal or negligence?
“Because it would be impossible to implement without the participation (or inaction) of Ukrzaliznytsia, or, to be more precise, NDKTI.
“After all, the use of Russian components by certain companies in the production of wagons could not escape its attention. At the same time, according to public data of the State Customs Service, despite the ban of the Cabinet of Ministers, the total import of goods from Russia for 7 months of 2023 amounted to $3.5 million, of which the lion’s share, namely $2.67 million, is precisely the products of the railway.”.
AURUM Group, which includes the company Dieselny Zavod has, from the beginning of the Russian invasion, expressed the intention to organise Ukrainian production of some components, but, unfortunately, they still do not have permission upon which the certification of Ukrainian enterprises for the production of these products depends.
According to Alona Lebedieva, the issue has a much deeper basis:
“Unfortunately, the structure of Ukrzaliznytsia is still riddled with corruption at all levels, which has been institutionalised for many years and which remains the biggest disease for our state.
“Imports still continue under grey schemes, there is still no ban, for example, on the installation of new absorbing devices manufactured by the aggressor country, despite the fact that we can master our own production.
“More than half of the officials of the UZ do not even speak Ukrainian, the state language.”
After long efforts (and accompanying bureaucracy,) Ukrainian manufacturers began to test prototypes and receive certification.
However, in February 2023, Ukrzaliznytsia finally began to take certain steps of de-Russification and published a program aimed at abandoning Russian names, marks or images on any objects of railway transport, that is, the names of regional branches, mileage markings, inscriptions on rolling stock, tickets, etc.
Of course, these steps are correct and necessary, in the 33rd year of Ukraine’s independence, but not at the right time. Unfortunately, the bulk of rolling stock is currently not suitable for passenger transportation, as stated this week by Brussels Report.
Alona Lebedieva noted that a large part of the rolling stock “needs not a cosmetic, but a capital repair, with the installation of air conditioning units and bio-toilets.”
As for freight transportation, she also noted: “Just like the infrastructure, the wagon and locomotive fleet must be restored.”
She further highlights the pressing need for the technical integration of Ukrzaliznytsia into EU standards.
“There are many important issues that require a quick and urgent response in the conditions of war. And in order to move forward, we need to get our own products to the market, and this is a primary necessity, which is connected with more global processes – the processes of the integration of Ukrainian railways into the EU.”
Construction of EU standard tracks and rolling stock, systemic reforms at customs with multimodal logistics centres that allow customs inspection without stopping the movement of freight trains, etc. all this must be done, and despite the will and resources of the EU, progress currently depends on the will of the authorities and managers in the offices of Ukrzaliznytsia, which remains a state monopoly and which appears to be locked into the post-Soviet mindset.
The process of Ukraine’s accession to the EU will be a mammoth one, and is unprecedented in that it must be undertaken whilst the country is fighting a war, as outlined by Global Policy Watch.
However, in Brussels and in the member state capitals support for Ukraine’s accession remains firm. The message is, however, that reliance on Russian industry must end, and the Soviet era infrastructure and institutions must be consigned to the dustbin of history.