Linas Linkevičius / Photo from UNIAN

Lithuanian Foreign Minister: Pace of real visa liberalization only depends on Ukraine

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius has told UNIAN about the prospects of Ukraine getting a visa-free regime this summer, and carrying out necessary reforms amid Russian aggression.

Linas Linkevičius / Photo from UNIAN

Not so long ago, Denmark has proposed the European Union to discuss the document which put forward a number of proposals regarding the assistance to Ukraine. How efficient can this document be, why is it needed, and how do you assess it?

I assess the document very positively, and not just this document. Now it is very important to understand the ongoing processes. First, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area [between Ukraine and the EU] has come into force, as well as the Russian sanctions against Ukraine. Here we have to find concrete ways of cooperation between Ukraine and the European institutions to ensure that, on the one hand, the pressure from Russia is eased, and on the other, we can talk about a freer flow of goods from Ukraine to the EU, and about the investment climate.

It ought to be not just a strong message that the EU will be helping Ukraine, we must also have very specific tools. There are a lot of sound ideas in these documents and in the other ones.

Another, and the most important, element is the security situation. We should not confuse our priorities now. Common sense tells us that the very first priority is security, and then goes everything else.

What should come first? Reforms or security? In my opinion, it’s security. Because, without security, it is impossible to carry out political reforms, even decision-making is impossible.

The EU should put the main emphasis on security and Russia, because Russia has the key to solving the problem. Russia, not the separatists. If Russia pursues denying its participation in the conflict, as we are seeing it now, if it keeps denying the presence of its troops on the Ukrainian territory, of its weapons and so on, then it will be difficult to hope for any constructive spirit of the negotiations.

Therefore, given the security issues and those of the DCFTA implementation, we must find ways to help Ukraine. We must not only seek for the long-term but also short-term projects, choose the segments relevant for Ukraine today. For example, such as customs or fiscal agencies, phytosanitary and veterinary services... There are very specific segments that crave very specific help, and where the results will be visible in the near future. So, the EU could focus its efforts on these areas and be more effective.

The flows of aid from the EU are another thing that we need to adjust. We need to deliver aid not only to Kyiv, but also to the regions [across Ukraine]. This is something that has not been done before.

These are the points I would highlight commenting not only on the Danish document, because we have more ideas. But the most important thing today is to see these blocks of problems, which we have to address very specifically.

You said that Russia’s recognition of its participation in the conflict in the east of Ukraine is needed. But the situation has been already been the same long enough. Are there any prerequisites to believe that Russia could change their mind?

There are not so many prerequisites are not so many, neither are there so many levers. That is why I am saying that we should make the most of what we have. We simply have no other choice.

If we talk about Russia easing its economic pressure, do you see any potential leverage over Moscow in this regard?

At the moment, the existing sanctions are the leverage.  There is nothing else. The sanctions will be reviewed depending on implementation or non-implementation of the Minsk agreements.

But I would like to go back not just to the letter but also to the meaning of these agreements, because I want to emphasize the importance of security. Sometimes, people say that first should go political reforms, and only then – control over borders and other issues, as fixed in the Minsk deal. I say the opposite.

If we talk about visa liberalization, there is information actively spinning now that there are some countries that do not support the proposal of the European Commission because of corruption in Ukraine. How would you describe the situation on this issue in the EU among the EU Member States at the moment?

We do not need to and cannot invent new mechanisms or conditions [for the introduction of a visa-free regime]. When the decision was made, we said that there was homework to be done, specific tasks to be performed. Most of them are linked exactly to the anti-corruption efforts. This is what the focus should be put on.

Of course, no one hopes here that the evil of corruption can be eradicated swiftly. Especially on a scale there is in Ukraine. But if the already-established agencies operate, the dynamics will be visible.

So, the term of the introduction of the actual visa-free regime only depends on Ukraine. It depends on how the commitments will be fulfilled. It is really possible that it will happen soon. It may be this summer, but nobody knows how it goes.

What are the threats of the Dutch referendum on the Association Agreement and what might be its consequences?

The consequences can be very unpleasant, but, hopefully, it's just a process that is inevitable. I do not think that this will be an obstacle, and I hope for a reasonable and rational outcome.

What is your overall assessment of the actions of the Ukrainian leadership in terms of the implementation of required reforms?

It is easy to criticize a country which is slow in implementing reforms, but we must bear in mind that the country is at war, every day. However, this does not diminish the goals. So I wish there was more cohesion, to spend less energy in the internal struggle. Consolidation of all branches of government is needed. It will be impossible to fulfill quickly the commitments in the framework of visa liberalization. So, the visa-free regime may come in the summer if there is united work. But, if there is discord it would be difficult. This also applies to all other matters.

Assessing objectively, I wish it [implementation of reforms] was quicker and more efficient, but at the same time, I understand very well the situation, which not only depends on the internal situation in Ukraine, but also on the external influence, especially the Russian aggression. But the bar for Ukraine’s reforms will not be going down. Corruption must be fought, the results must be visible, not only by the agencies established. Further progress depends on this. What we see is the reserve of potential assistance from the EU.

Iryna Somer

Translation by Yevgeny Matyushenko

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