The 22nd EU-Ukraine Council on 6 October maintained the EU’s steadfast support for Ukraine’s economy and territorial integrity, renewed financial aid to the beleagured state and called on Russia to respect the peace deal. Council President Charles Michel, EU High Representative Joseph Borrell and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also committed to strengthening ties, having taken stock of progress to date.

Both sides emphasized the relationship and Michel made clear that “the EU is – and will remain – Ukraine’s biggest and most reliable partner.” The meeting resulted in three new agreements to support Eastern Ukraine, whose situation, weakened by six years of conflict, is now exacerbated by the pandemic. The measures, including one aimed at increasing Ukraine’s resilience to conflicts and hybrid threats, are valued at €60 million.

Much of the leaders’ discussions concerned the war in Donbass and the peace process. The EU, Michel said, “will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity [...] President Zelensky is working hard to resolve the conflict and has made significant steps.” In a joint statement, the three called on Russia to reciprocate these efforts, by supporting full implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the ceasefire agreed in July - of which several violations have been reported. EU leaders also reaffirmed Kiev’s role as a strategic transit country for gas, confirming its virtual condition as “geopolitical controller and switch” of Russian energy exports to Europe - a move which can be seen in the light of the North Stream arguments.

EU support responds to a request made in this respect by Ukraine – in particular its president. Elected in May 2019 with a strong political mandate, Zelensky seems genuinely willing to resolve the conflict, at a time when Russia is being particularly accused of the poisoning of Navalny. A month ago, the Ukrainian government asked the EU to keep pressuring Russia to comply with the Minsk agreements: more recently, Zelensky asked the bloc to further develop economic and political ties with Kiev as well as maintaining sanctions against Moscow.

Indeed, after the EU-Ukraine Council, Zelensky said he “received assurances” from the EU that sanctions – approved by the bloc on 1 October – will remain in effect “until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored.” Brussels’ support - which included additional funds to help with the pandemic and pledges for deeper future relationships – is also aimed at limiting the country’s corruption – especially pronounced in its judicial systems – which resulted in an attempt to undermine Joe Biden’s US presidential campaign by two high-profile Ukrainian citizens.

Assessing progress made so far by Ukraine, Michel told Zelensky “In fighting against corruption, you have also delivered some important achievements. [...] Certainly, more needs to be done.”

Caterina Tani reporting from Brussels for MON

Elbows of friendship – EU Council President Charles Michel and President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky at the Council meeting. (Photo: Council of the EU)

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