Germany, France press Ukraine on graft, vote in rebel east

23rd February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Germany and France on Tuesday urged Kiev to root out corruption and quickly adopt a law on elections in the pro-Russian east that may help resolve Ukraine's separatist war.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Kiev amid political chaos that has seen ministers in the pro-EU government trade accusations of influence peddling and graft.

The ruling coalition has also been breaking at the seams since Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk won a no-confidence vote last Tuesday that came only hours after President Petro Poroshenko urged his government leader to step down.

The tumult has sparked worry among its Western allies that the government may be on the verge of failing to follow through on the hopes of Ukrainians whose protests brought down the country's Russian-backed leadership in February 2014.

Adding to EU concerns are continued clashes among Ukrainian forces and pro-Moscow insurgents that Kiev and the West accuse Russia of backing -- a charge the Kremlin denies.

"We arrived in Ukraine during a storm. There is much unrest," Steinmeier admitted during a joint press conference with Ayrault and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

Yet both he and Ayrault insisted that Ukrainian leaders must put aside their squabbles if they wanted to put the country on the path to sustainable and peaceful growth.

"We need for the economic reforms to be pushed forward," said Steinmeier.

"But it is essential that this policy is based on a principle of zero tolerance for corruption," he stressed.

The French foreign minister said the European Union "will continue to support your country".

"However, to be clear, we need for (Ukraine's) policies to be determined, credible and sustainable," Ayrault said.

- Sealing Russian border -

Berlin and Paris have been spearheading Western efforts to end a 22-month revolt that has claimed more than 9,000 lives in the European Union's backyard.

But a peace plan signed one year ago that was meant to find a permanent solution by the end of 2015 has expired with few of its commitments met.

One of those involves Ukraine adopting a law on elections that grants rebel-run regions temporary special status -- a step at which Kiev has balked.

That refusal has fanned daily exchanges of mortar and artillery fire that has already driven more than 1.5 million Ukrainians from their homes across the industrial war zone.

Steinmeier said it was unacceptable "that there are so many violations of the ceasefire and that the electoral law is being postponed" by Ukraine.

Such a law "would be the basis for elections to be organised in the east."

But Ukraine has insisted that it can conduct polls in separatist regions under international laws if its porous border with Russia is fully secured first.

Poroshenko said after meeting the two diplomats Monday that the sides discussed the possibility of deploying an "international mission" along the Russian frontier -- much of it now controlled by the insurgents.

"The parties discussed an opportunity of deploying an international mission in (the east) as an important precondition for holding local elections under the Ukrainian legislation and the OSCE principles," Poroshenko's official website said.

US President Barack Obama also told Russia's Vladimir Putin on Monday about the importance of "permitting... the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) full access to the conflict area, including the international border."

But Ukraine's foreign minister expressed further concern Tuesday that Russia may continue to try to influence Kiev's politics even if Ukraine's integrity is preserved.

"We are committed (to the peace process), but not to the Russian vision of trying to integrate a type of east into Ukraine that will remain under Russian influence, and which will be integrated in order to destabilise all of Ukraine," Klimkin said.

© 2016 AFP

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