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Kyiv Visit Aims to Help EU-Ukraine Ties02/02 06:11

   Senior members of the European Union's executive branch traveled to Ukraine 
on Thursday looking to boost relations with the war-torn country and pave the 
way for it to one day join the bloc, but concerns over corruption and 
democratic deficiencies remain.

   BRUSSELS (AP) -- Senior members of the European Union's executive branch 
traveled to Ukraine on Thursday looking to boost relations with the war-torn 
country and pave the way for it to one day join the bloc, but concerns over 
corruption and democratic deficiencies remain.

   European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen led a team of 15 policy 
commissioners who were to spend the day discussing Ukraine's financial, 
business and energy needs, and how to bring the former Soviet state's 
legislation into line with EU standards.

   The highly symbolic visit is the first EU political mission of its kind to a 
country at war. Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, 
who chairs meetings of the bloc's heads of state and government, will hold a 
summit in Kyiv on Friday with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

   "Ukraine's destiny is in Europe," Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who 
didn't make the trip, told EU lawmakers in Brussels, noting that the country's 
application to join was submitted last June. "The commission will support 
Ukraine throughout the whole accession process."

   "Despite the continuing ruthless attacks of the aggressor, we are seeing a 
major momentum of reforms in Ukraine," Hahn said. But he noted that "the EU 
accession path is a marathon, not a sprint" and that the EU's 27 member 
countries must agree unanimously for Ukraine to join one day.

   It's not clear exactly how the reforms can move at an accelerated pace 
almost one year into the war and with an economy being drained by defense 
spending and which relies on injections of foreign financial assistance, much 
of it from the United States and Europe.

   Visibly things are moving. On Wednesday, Zelenskyy's government continued 
its recent crackdown on alleged corruption with the dismissal of more 
high-ranking officials. But an EU advisory mission set up in Kyiv in 2014 said 
then that it would take at least a decade to make a dent in the problem.

   In a new report this week, the anti-corruption group Transparency 
International praised Ukraine for the steady progress it has made in battling 
the scourge in recent years, although it ranks the country a low 116 out of the 
180 countries listed for perceived corruption.

   "However, Russia's war of aggression has disrupted some of the reform 
processes and exacerbated corruption risks. Reconstruction and recovery efforts 
can be drastically undermined by wrongdoers pocketing funds, both during the 
war and after," the report said.

   Briefing reporters before he left on the commission trip to Kyiv, EU foreign 
policy chief Josep Borrell noted that Ukrainian politicians sometimes say to 
him: "forget about conditions, I am at war, why are you telling me reforms?"

   But Borrell said that "this is a merits-based process, and no one can jump 
over it. So we have to cooperate better and to try and be optimistic, and at 
the same time realistic."

   EU member countries are divided over whether Ukraine should be allowed in. 
France and Germany, notably, believe that the bloc should be reformed and its 
decision-making processes streamlined before it allows in any new members.

   They've championed a new grouping, the European Political Community, whose 
inaugural meeting in Prague last year was attended by representatives from more 
than 40 countries. Another summit is scheduled in Moldova in June.

   During the visit, the EU announced that it's ramping up its military 
training mission for Ukraine, from an initial target of pushing 15,000 troops 
through the schooling to up to 30,000 troops. One focus is to train the crews 
of tanks that Western countries have offered Ukraine, Borrell said.

 
 
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