Posted on Mar 26, 2019
EU leaders fear that Ukraine’s next president may prove unwilling or unable to accelerate reforms they have spent five years investing in, and on which the country's much hoped for accession to the Union depends.
The election due on Sunday is now seen as a three-horse race between President Petro Poroshenko, who has won praise for keeping Ukraine together in the chaotic aftermath of the Crimea annexation, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series.
Kyiv based Western diplomats have expressed concerns over how effectively either of the front runners would pass reform and tackle corruption.
“We certainly know what we get with Poroshenko,” one diplomat told Reuters. “We think we know what we’ll get with Tymoshenko. With Zelenskiy, we have no clue.”
“All of them are flawed,” said another. “There is no candidate where you will sit there and go: ‘Yes!’.”
The ongoing situation of Russian aggression in the east of the country has made the task of reform difficult, a fact that is well understood in Brussels, but there is also fears of a lack of will.
Successive rounds of sanctions on Russia show the West is still willing to bat for Ukraine, although a desire to prevent Russia from interfering in other former Soviet republics is also a factor.
Italy, Greece, Hungary and other countries closer to Moscow are also keen to repair their own bi-lateral relationships, and may seize on any lack of meaningful reform as a reason to withdraw their support for the renewal of sanctions.
A Ukrainian president weak on reforms could tip the balance, and jeopardise not only sanctions, but also international funding and ties with a bloc that has given Ukrainians visa-free travel, a right some two million people have exercised in less than two years.
“What Ukraine now risks, is squandering the goodwill and belief it got since 2014,” the second diplomat said. “The government’s calculation is that they’ll be supported no matter what.”
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