Eighteen European Union member states have called on the bloc to be "ready to act" in support of Ukraine in case Russian tries to undermine the country's presidential and parliamentary elections later this year, according to a document seen by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
In a discussion paper titled 'Keeping Ukraine On Its European Path,' the 18 countries also say that the bloc should "avoid EU fatigue in Ukraine or Ukraine fatigue in the EU," RFE/RL said.
The document, which EU officials were not authorized to release publicly, was endorsed by representatives of Austria, Belgium, Britain, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.
It will be debated when EU foreign ministers gather in Brussels on February 18 to discuss the political situation in Ukraine, ahead of the country's presidential election set for March 31 and parliamentary elections later this year.
The discussion paper says that the upcoming elections will be "a test case for Ukraine: its democracy, its reforms, its resilience, and its orientation. It remains a key interest of the EU to keep Ukraine on a European path of reforms and to continue its support."
It states that "the campaign environment is challenging and Ukrainian resilience will be key in case of Russian interference," noting that Moscow is expected to "seek to influence the elections through support to its preferred candidates, cyberattacks, and disinformation campaigns."
The 18 EU countries call for measures to counter the "false Russian narrative of Ukraine as a 'failed state.'"
According to the document, Brussels should also "provide additional assistance, including humanitarian assistance," to eastern Ukraine where fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed forces has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
The paper praises the Ukrainian leadership, which together with "a vibrant civil society and the international community, has made impressive efforts to promote vital reforms and strengthen Ukraine's resilience and European orientation."
"Reforms have been more profound and extensive for the past five years than in the previous 22 years of its post-Soviet life," it says, citing "progress achieved on decentralization, public administration reform, deregulation, pension system, and transparency."
However, it emphasizes that the establishment of a "fully independent and effective" anticorruption court was crucial to give "the anticorruption agenda a vital and irreversible push forward, independently of the political leadership that will emerge from elections."
It urges Kyiv to "protect the striving and vibrant civil society and bring those responsible for intimidating and attacking civil society activists and journalists to justice."
The authorities must also ensure a "pluralist, independent, and accessible media landscape" as well as a "properly financed and operational public broadcaster," the paper says.