EU's Juncker to visit Kiev next week

25th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday said he will visit Kiev next week on his first bilateral trip since taking office in November, in a show of support for Ukraine's embattled government.

Juncker, who will be accompanied by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, will jointly lead a cabinet meeting with President Petro Poroshenko during the visit on Monday.

"I am going next Monday to Kiev where the president of the Ukrainian republic is doing me the honour of being co-chair of the cabinet," Juncker told lawmakers in the European Parliament.

He gave no other details about the visit, which comes amid strong support by the European Union for Ukraine's pro-Western government as it battles pro-Russian separatists in the east and economic chaos.

Former Luxembourg prime minister Juncker had announced in November that his first bilateral trip as head of the Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, would be to Kiev.

Juncker's ceremonial stint at the head of the Ukrainian cabinet comes after two top Ukrainian officials were arrested on corruption charges and led away in handcuffs from a televised cabinet meeting.

The European Parliament on Wednesday formally approved new economic aid worth 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) for Ukraine, two-thirds of which could be disbursed by the end of the 2015.

The EU agreed on the aid, in the form of loans, in January.

"Ukraine is not alone. Europe stands united behind Ukraine and the reform agenda of the new government," Juncker said in January when he announced the aid.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commision vice-president for the euro, indicated on Wednesday that the EU could give more money in future.

"We'll need to discuss further assistance in coming months," he said on Twitter. "To clarify: the financial assistance to Ukraine annot be used for military operations."

European sources said they were considering a further 700 million euros but there was no official confirmation.

The EU cash was offered as part of an International Monetary Fund programme aimed at mobilising up to $40 billion, for which creditors have demanded reforms by the Ukraine government.

The European Union has until now released 1.36 billion euros for Ukraine through two economic aid programmes worth a total of 1.6 billion euros.

Brussels has also imposed heavy economic sanctions on Moscow, which is accused of sending weapons and troops in support of the pro-Russian rebels.

Moscow has denied any such involvement in the conflict that has cost more than 6,000 lives since April.

It was the collapse of a mooted EU-Ukraine trade agreement in November 2013 that sparked protests that ousted Poroshenko's pro-Kremlin predecessor Viktor Yanukovych, which was followed by the Russian annexation of Crimea and the current unrest in eastern Ukraine.

© 2015 AFP

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