European Union leaders praised Ukraine’s presidential election and vowed to support the country’s new leader as he assumes power in a country struggling with a flailing economy, pro-Russian separatists in the east, and ongoing pressure from Moscow.
In a statement following an informal dinner in Brussels on May 27, the heads-of-state of the EU’s 28 member countries called the elections in Ukraine that saw businessman Petro Poroshenko secure the presidency “an expression of the will” of the ex-Soviet republic’s citizens.
“The presidential election was characterized by high turnout and a clear resolve by the authorities to hold what was a genuine election largely in line with international commitments and respecting fundamental freedoms, despite the hostile security environment in two eastern regions of the country,” the leaders said in the statement.
The leaders added that they “stand firm in upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and condemn Russia’s “illegal annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea territory in March.
They also called on Moscow to engage with Poroshenko, to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s borders, and to “use its leverage on the armed separatists to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.”
French President Francois Hollande said that if the Kremlin fails to cooperate or help end the violence in eastern Ukraine, Russia could face a fresh round of sanctions.
"President Putin must now not only respect the [election] outcome but also recognize the Ukraine president and make sure there is a de-escalation, which is expected and possible today," Hollande said.
Following the dinner, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU would continue to provide financial and other assistance to Ukraine aimed at improving the situation inside the country.
Barroso said the leaders also discussed efforts to boost energy security for Ukraine and the EU itself as Kyiv and Moscow mull an EU proposal on outstanding debts and future prices for Russian gas.
He also noted that earlier in the day that the EU had made a decision to move Ukraine closer to visa liberalization for Ukrainian citizens.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said she now expects Ukraine and the EU to sign a deal on closer trade ties at a Brussels summit on June 27.
Kyiv and the bloc have already signed the political chapters of their association agreement.
Earlier on May 27, Ukraine's ambassador to the EU expressed frustration over what Kyiv judges to be Europe's hesitance to impose further, tougher sanctions on Moscow.
"We should not appease the aggressor," Kostiantyn Yelisieiev told the German dpa news agency.
"The EU should not wait for new red lines to be crossed. When Russia invades the territory of Ukraine, it will be too late to impose sanctions."
He called for economic measures such as "cutting Russia off from the global financial system," along with "creative" sanctions such as revoking Russia's hosting of the 2018 World Cup.
with reporting from dpa