Ukraine and the European Union have held a crucial summit, with the two sides agreeing on the need for further reforms and condemning Russia's seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine topping the agenda.
This year's summit in Brussels, which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attended, was the first since an Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine came into force in September, strengthening ties between the EU and Kyiv.
"Today we reaffirmed our commitment to advancing the political association and economic integration of Ukraine with the European Union on the basis of our common values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights," European Council President Donald Tusk said after the summit. "The same values that people once fought for on the Maidan and millions of Ukrainians have been fighting for since."
The landmark Association Agreement was initially slated for signing in November 2013. But then-President Viktor Yanukovych walked away from it under pressure from Moscow, prompting mass street protests -- known as the Maidan or Euromaidan -- that pushed him from power in February 2014.
Russia responded by seizing the Crimean Peninsula and fomenting separatism in eastern Ukraine, where the ensuing war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
A joint statement released on July 9 mentioned Kyiv’s troubled efforts to crack down on rampant corruption and efforts to improve the country's business climate, saying the EU and Ukraine "agreed on the importance of continuing and accelerating reform efforts, in particular in the fight against corruption," and on "the need for continued efforts in the reform of the judiciary and prosecution to strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine."
The statement also criticized Russia's "illegal annexation of Crimea" and included "strong condemnation of the clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by acts of aggression by the Russian armed forces since February 2014."
The EU approved $1 billion in loans for a period of 2 1/2 years in May, saying further disbursements would be contingent about “Ukraine respecting democratic mechanisms and the rule of law, and guaranteeing respect for human rights.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in late June praised Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman and the government for pushing anticorruption reforms. But she suggested the government was still not doing enough.
"More reforms are needed now," she said.
Mogherini, the United States, and the International Monetary Fund – whose loans have played a critical part in buttressing Ukraine's battered economy-- have lauded Kyiv for legislation to establish an independent anticorruption court but say more work is needed to secure further IMF loans.
The summit came two days before a meeting of NATO heads of state in Brussels and a week before a July 16 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Responding to a question last month about whether he intended to drop Washington’s opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Trump responded, “We’re going to have to see.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, however, later told reporters that U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia over its seizure of Crimea would remain until Moscow “returns the peninsula to the Ukraine.”
Both the EU and the United States have targeted Russia with several rounds of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The EU last week extended sanctions against Moscow through January 2019.