The European Union has finally but conditionally approved a visa-free travel program for Ukraine as tensions intensify between the Western-backed state and neighboring Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukrainian territories.
Peter Javorcik, the EU ambassador for Slovakia, which now holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said Thursday that Kiev had met all requirements for the visa-free travels for its citizens.
He added that the EU members had agreed on stays without visas for EU and Ukraine citizens for stays of not more than 90 days in any 180-day period.
Javorcik said, however, that the 28-nation bloc would implement the decision only after it can beef up its mechanism to suspend visa-free agreements in an emergency.
He also said that the EU had demanded that Kiev carry out civil society reforms to eradicate corruption and promote its rights and democratic standards to the level existing in other EU states.
The decision comes more than two years after demonstrations in Kiev led to the ouster of Russian-backed government and Ukraine began to seek closer relations with the West, including the EU countries.
A conflict then broke out in eastern Ukraine, with pro-Russians demanding separation from Kiev. The armed conflict has badly strained ties between Ukraine and Russia. The issue of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which broke away from Ukraine and rejoined Russia in 2014, has also widened gaps between the EU and Moscow.
Javorcik said the visa waiver decision was a major sign that relations between Ukraine and the EU were greatly improving.
“I am also delighted that our decision is able to send a positive message in the run up to the EU-Ukraine Summit on 24 November,” said Javorcik, adding, “Credible reform is the right path and should be encouraged.”
Visa-free travel is part of a partnership accord signed between Ukraine and the EU in 2014.
The European Parliament should approve the visa-waivers before it goes into effect.