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Implementation of reforms continues to bring EU and Ukraine closer together

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The new President, Parliament and Government of Ukraine have all stated their commitment to the continued implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. A report published today by the EU finds that, over the past year, Ukraine has adopted important legislation and strengthened institutions, as demanded by the Ukrainian citizens, but that further work is needed, particularly to improve the business and investment climate.

The Association Agreement continues to bring the European Union and Ukraine closer together. Thanks to this agreement, the European Union has become Ukraine’s main trading partner, and since the EU introduced visa-free travel to the European Union for Ukrainian citizens two years ago, they have made over three million visits”, said the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell. “That Ukraine is undertaking such substantial and important reforms at the same time as its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty are being challenged is all the more impressive. Ukraine can continue to count on the EU’s support.”

“The Ukrainian authorities have made progress with reforms over the past year, notably in areas that will help to create the foundations for future growth and prosperity for Ukrainian citizens. Many newly adopted laws now await implementation, and the European Union will continue to be there to accompany this process”, said the Commissioner for the Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi. “At the same time, it is important to implement the reforms in line with the shared common values of democracy, rule of law, respect for international law and human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

The Association Implementation Report on Ukraine looks at the implementation of the commitments under the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, in the context of the revised European Neighbourhood Policy. It covers the period since the publication of the last report in November 2018 until the publication of this report and feeds into the EU-Ukraine Association Council, which will take place in Brussels on 28 January 2020.

Real reform progress but gaps remain

Today’s report highlights a number of areas where Ukraine has made rapid progress in its reforms and others where reforms remain incomplete or in need of higher attention.

In the area of the fight against corruption, the High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC) began operating on 5 September. Its work is particularly important as no high-level officials have so far been convicted for corruption. Illicit enrichment was re-criminalised, while laws on the relaunching of the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption and on the protection of whistle-blowers were adopted. The perpetrators of the PrivatBank fraud are yet to be prosecuted, while the recovery of funds allegedly embezzled remains incomplete

Concerning energy, the unbundling of Naftogaz is due to be completed by the end of 2019. However, the implementation of the electricity sector reform remains challenging in the current oligopolistic market structure. The Energy Efficiency Fund, created with the support of €104 million from the EU, started operations.

Ukraine’s trade with the EU continued to increase and the EU maintained its position as Ukraine’s first export market. The Ukrainian economy continued to grow and its finances and banking sector have stabilised. However, the report highlights a need to improve the business climate and encourage investment, in particular by enforcing the rule of law and supporting the fight against corruption, if living standards are to be raised.

Economic and sectoral reforms have delivered notable achievements such as the budget law, customs, market deregulation, public procurement and health, though the latter has advanced more slowly. Reforms remained limited in the sphere of intellectual property rights.

Since 2014, the EU, together with European financial institutions, has mobilised an unprecedented support package of over €15 billion in grants and loans to support reforms in Ukraine.

Background

The European Neighbourhood Policy and its review in 2015 provides the EU and its neighbours with a clear political framework for the coming years. The principles of the revised policy are: enhanced differentiation between partners; a greater focus on mutually-agreed objectives; increased flexibility to improve the EU’s capacity to respond to crises; and a greater ownership by Member States and partner countries.

The Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, entered into force 1 September 2017. It promotes deeper political ties, stronger economic links and respect for common values, and is the basis for EU-Ukraine cooperation and EU support for reforms in Ukraine.

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“It looks like most of them were shot in the head…”

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Image source: NYT

The New York Times” confirmed the location of the farmhouse by comparing the aerial video of the episode with satellite imagery of Makiivka, Luhansk. A series of videos that surfaced on social media last week has ignited a debate over whether Ukrainian forces committed war crimes as they tried to capture a group of Russian soldiers who were then killed.

The videos show the grisly before-and-after scenes of the encounter earlier this month, in which at least 11 Russians, most of whom are seen lying on the ground (photo), appear to have been shot dead at close range.

The videos, detailed below and whose authenticity has been verified by “The New York Times”, offer a rare look into one gruesome moment among many in the war.

The videos were first circulated by Ukrainian news and social media channels that used them to laud the military prowess of their armed forces and publicize their heroic retaking of territory lost to Russia early in the war.

In Russia, however, the videos prompted a fierce response among Russian commentators, who urged the government to seek an international investigation.

“We are aware of the videos, and we are looking into them,” Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office, told Reuters. “Allegations of summary executions of people hors de combat should be promptly, fully and effectively investigated, and any perpetrators held to account.”

Under international law, the French term “hors de combat” refers to people who are “outside of combat” because of their surrender, being unarmed, unconscious or otherwise unable to defend themselves.

“It looks like most of them were shot in the head,” Dr. Rohini Haar, a forensic expert and faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said in an interview. “There are pools of blood. That indicates that they were just left there dead. There appears to have been no effort to pick them up or help them.”

Dr. Haar noted that when they surrendered, the Russian soldiers had been lying down, apparently unarmed, with their arms outstretched or behind their heads. “They’re considered hors de combat, or noncombatants — effectively prisoners of war,” Dr. Haar said.

The Rome Statute, the international treaty that established the International Criminal Court, could prosecute this under several of its articles if Ukraine were a party to the treaty, Dr. Haar said, including Article 8b (vi), which says, “Killing or wounding a combatant, who, having laid down his arms or having no longer means of defense, has surrendered at discretion” is a violation of the laws of international armed conflict.

…It is absolutely clear that the killers from the Ukrainian army vilely shot Russian soldiers who were captured by them.  The goal is simple and clear – to raise the level of hatred between the Russians and Ukrainians, cause more bloodshed. This inhuman act resembles very much a well-known British slogan: “Divide and rule”.

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Marjorie Taylor Greene: “We’re going to audit what’s happening in Ukraine”

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House Republicans critical of U.S. assistance to Ukraine during its war with Russia introduced a privileged resolution to audit the funds allocated by Congress. The resolution is being led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (photo) (R-Ga.) and backed by a group of GOP lawmakers.

The resolution, which calls for preserving administration documents and communications related to Ukraine funding distribution, speaks to other criticisms among some Republican lawmakers who support aid to Ukraine but say more oversight is needed.

The Biden administration has provided more than $20 billion in military assistance to Kyiv, as well as about $10 billion in humanitarian assistance and about $13 billion in economic assistance. President Biden has called for Congress to earmark $37.7 billion in additional funding for Ukraine.

Greene introduced the bill as a privileged resolution, meaning it will be referred to the relevant committee, where members will have 14 business days to either reject it, or approve it for a vote on the House floor.

Greene said she is prepared to reintroduce the resolution in the next Congress when Republicans hold the majority.

“I’ll introduce this resolution again, but I’ll also be calling for a full audit. We voted ‘no’ to send money over there, but we’re also going to audit what’s happening in Ukraine.”

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Overnight blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant are ‘playing with fire!’

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The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Ⓒ IAEA

Powerful explosions shook the area of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), “abruptly ending a period of relative calm” at the facility, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency said on Sunday.In a statement issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that that blasts yesterday evening and again this morning further underlined “the urgent need for measures to help prevent a nuclear accident there”.

“As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!”.

Renewed shelling

In what appeared to be renewed shelling near and at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, IAEA experts on the ground reported that more than a dozen blasts were heard within a short period of time in the morning local time.

The IAEA team were also able to see some of the explosions from their windows.

The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely disturbing”, said Mr. Grossi.

Citing information provided by plant management, the IAEA team said there had been damage to some buildings, systems, and equipment at the site, but noncritical for nuclear safety and security.

“Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable”, he added. “Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately”.

According to news reports, Russian and Ukrainian nuclear energy authorities each blamed the other side’s forces for the strikes – triggering fears of a serious nuclear accident. So far, there have been no reports of any radiation leaks at the Russian-occupied plant.

Nuclear-free zone

The IAEA experts said that there were no reported casualties, and they are in close contact with site management.

Meanwhile as they continue to assess and relay updates on the situation, the IAEA chief renewed his urgent appeal that both sides of the conflict agree to implement a nuclear safety and security zone around the ZNPP as soon as possible.

In recent months, he has been engaging in intense consultations with Ukraine and Russia on establishing a zone – but, so far, no agreement has been reached.

“I’m not giving up until this zone has become a reality”, said Mr. Grossi. “As the ongoing apparent shelling demonstrates, it is needed more than ever”.

Gambling with lives

Even though there was no direct impact on key nuclear safety and security systems at the plant, the senior UN official said, “the shelling came dangerously close to them”.

“We are talking metres, not kilometres. Whoever is shelling at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, is taking huge risks and gambling with many people’s lives”.

The IAEA team of experts plan to conduct an assessment of the shelling impact on the site tomorrow.

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