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Ahead Of EU-Ukraine Summit, Borrell Signals 'Progress' Alongside Push For Further Reforms

European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell (file photo)
European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell (file photo)

EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell says senior EU officials will use an EU-Ukraine summit to underline the bloc's support for reforms and reiterate "full support" for Ukraine's territorial integrity, as Brussels commits to a multibillion-euro investment package and an aviation agreement.

He also told RFE/RL that the EU had set up a fact-finding mission to assess a possible military advisory and training mission, something Kyiv has pressed for as its war against the Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine grinds on in its eighth year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will host European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council Charles Michel along with other EU officials on October 12.

Borrell said that Kyiv had "achieved important progress in some areas" since the Association Agreement was signed four years ago and that EU officials will "underline our continued and effective support to the ongoing reform progress in Ukraine."

But he suggested no new pledges were in the works related to Ukraine's EU membership efforts, adding, "Moving forward with the reform and approximation process is the best tool for advancing towards this end."

Borrell cited rule-of-law and anti-corruption progress urged by Brussels in an annual implementation report based on the Association Agreement.

"The agreement still offers a large number of untapped opportunities," he said. "Its full implementation should remain a priority for both sides."

Borrell called "further commitment on the continuity and irreversibility of the reform path, especially in the area of rule of law and judiciary," a priority that is "in the interest of the Ukrainian people."

He said Brussels continued to pressure Russia in connection with its actions with respect to Ukraine and other countries.

"The European Union, together with our like-minded partners, will continue to speak up and hold the Russian government accountable when violating international law and failing to adhere to its international obligations and commitments," Borrell said. "We remain firm in our commitments to strengthening the international rules-based order."

Addressing reports that EU officials were considering withdrawing visa-free travel for Ukraine and nearby Georgia and Moldova, along with several Balkan states, Borrell said Brussels was continuing its work to assess such travel regimes.

"Visa-free travel is the result of Ukraine’s efforts to build a European future," he said.

Borrell was asked about the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that is set to allow Russia to bypass Ukraine with gas shipments bound for the West.

"Ukraine is and remains a strategic transit country for gas. To continue gas transit via Ukraine beyond 2024 will be important for European energy security and we support this," Borrell said.

"Let me be clear," he added, "the EU continues to attach great importance to Ukraine's energy security."

Moscow is awaiting regulatory approval for Nord Stream 2 to start pumping gas to Germany as gas prices spike.

Borrell said that "the European Commission's objective has always been to ensure that, if built, [Nord Stream 2] operates in a transparent and nondiscriminatory way with the appropriate degree of regulatory oversight, in line with international and EU energy law."

Kyiv has long sought an "open skies" agreement with Brussels and Borrell said officials would sign a Common Aviation Area Agreement and start applying it immediately to bring "concrete benefits to citizens and businesses."

"This means that, from the date of signature, all airlines from both sides will be able to fly between any airport in the EU to any airport in Ukraine -- and vice versa -- without any restrictions," Borrell said. "This is a big step to strengthen our close ties even further, as it will increase our connectivity and with this people-to-people contacts."

He also predicted the signing of an agreement on Ukrainian accession to the Horizon Europe and Creative Europe programs, "which will help build stronger ties between our researchers, artists and our academic communities."

Borrell was asked about the recent disclosures in the so-called Pandora Papers naming 38 Ukrainian politicians -- more than any other country -- using offshore accounts.

"We expect that the recent allegations -- like any other allegations concerning corruption or possible tax evasion -- are properly investigated by the competent national authorities," he said.

The documents include evidence that Zelenskiy, a former TV comic, and his partners owned multiple offshore companies, including with ties to properties in London.

"Ukraine's efforts on fighting corruption continue to form part of our intensive political dialogue on rule of law and are an important element in the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement," Borrell said.

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