Almost a Candidate. How Russia Comes Up with Obstacles on Ukraine’s Way to the EU

By European Council

Ukraine is one step away from becoming a candidate for EU membership. On June 17, the European Commission recommended the European Council vote for granting Ukraine candidate status. The council is set to reach this decision, which will be fateful to Ukrainians, on June 23-24.

Ukraine’s path to candidacy took eight years and a range of reforms. We implemented the decentralization reform, opened the land market, founded anti-corruption authorities, and took many other important steps. Still, even today one can hear that “Ukraine is not ready to join the EU because it did not overcome corruption, did not reform the court, has a weak economy and issues with national minorities…” But who is behind this incendiary narrative?

The truth is, it’s Russia that starts this news, which is then readily spread further by the Ukrainian media. Let’s take a closer look at the manipulative claims that Russia has been making. 

Claims of Corruption

The issue of corruption in Ukraine is the weapon that Russian propagandists use against Ukraine in the international arena. It is one of the stereotypes about Ukraine that the Kremlin’s puppets of Solovyov and Skabeyeva’s kind have been feeding to the Europeans for years.

“If we really are as corrupted as they keep convincing us we are, why are we still alive? Why hasn’t the Ukrainian state fallen apart if it’s practically soaked with corruption and interested in nothing but corruption? Why are all the state institutions still functioning and contributing to the fight against the aggressor? It’s time we were honest with ourselves and asked how substantiated this narrative of Ukraine’s corruption really is…,” said Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba.

As a matter of fact, anti-corruption practices and structures were established in Ukraine long ago. We have the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which investigates corruption and prepares cases for prosecution; the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP), which ensures the NABU’s pretrial investigations are lawful; the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC), which monitors e-declarations of public officials and controls the state authorities to make sure they abide by the anti-corruption laws; and the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine (HACC), which presides in corruption cases.

Employees of these institutions are selected in open competitions—actually, that’s where there’s room for the Kremlin’s manipulations. For six months, the jury has been unable to decide on the candidate for the position of SAP chief. In order not to feed Russian propaganda, caution is of utmost importance in communicating this issue. Manipulations aside, it is safe to say that the designation of the SAP chief and the NABU director is one of the EU’s requirements that Ukraine must fulfill after it’s granted the candidate status.

Claims of Dishonest Courts

The Kremlin’s second argument in its information warfare is Ukraine’s faulty judicial branch, which they claim to be, yet again, corrupt and dependent on oligarchs. However, spreading this notion without understanding the core of the problem is working for the enemy. Ukraine’s courts are, indeed, far from perfect, but they’ve been approaching the European standards step by step.

In 2016, Ukraine started a major court reform to ensure the judges’ independence and build up trust for the judicial branch and its transparency. One of the greatest challenges of this reform was the judges’ lack of integrity. To meet this challenge, the Supreme Council of Justice, the Public Integrity Council, and the High Qualification Commission of Judges were founded. The reform also stipulated candidate selection through open competition, digital justice, etc.

Unlike Russian propagandists, the EU does not speak of the ephemeral “corrupt court of Ukraine” but clearly defines the steps that our state had to take to become an EU member. The priority is the shake-up of the Supreme Council of Justice and the creation of a new High Qualification Commission of Judges, along with the nomination of qualified judges to serve in the Constitutional Court of Ukraine.

Claims of the EU’s Unwillingness to Welcome Ukraine

For lack of solid arguments, Russia resorts to its usual metaphors and plays on people’s feelings when it concerns Ukraine joining the EU. Russia’s experts have been reiterating the notion that Ukraine will become “a burden for the European Union,” “a bottomless black hole” bound to devour all European resources.

Russian media keep stating that European countries could not be bothered to see Ukraine in the EU. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine even came up with a joke prognosticating that Ukraine will only join the EU after Turkey, and Turkey will never become a member state.

While Putin’s puppets are laughing at their own joke, Ukraine is moving steadily towards EU membership. Russia’s full-scale war against our country has united Europe as never before. Even the states that used to be skeptical about Ukraine’s candidacy have now pledged their support. These are, among others, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

Both European politicians and ordinary citizens give Ukraine hope for a positive outcome. According to GLOBSEC’s opinion poll, a majority of citizens of Eastern and Central European countries see Ukraine as an EU and NATO member. In particular, Ukraine’s membership is supported in Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, and Romania.

The current EU’s position on Ukraine is unprecedented. For the first time in history, the European Commission has recommended that a state be granted candidate status on the understanding that steps are taken to keep the status and not gain it. Ukrainians have much work ahead, but we are ready to pursue this goal and implement certain reforms even in a time of war.

Ukraine is Europe’s largest country with great potential and unique experience. Ukraine’s European integration will not only strengthen Europe’s economy and security but also invigorate the unity of Europe.

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