Ukraine calls for visa-free travel as EU drags its feet
The Ukrainian parliament called on the European Union yesterday to grant the former Soviet republic visa-free travel, a day before the bloc is due to debate the matter, with sources pointing to hesitation on the side of Germany and France.
Ukraine has been the heart of a dispute between the West and Russia since Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in the spring of 2014 and went on to back rebels in a war against government troops in the east of the country. The EU and United States have since imposed sanctions on Moscow and sought to build closer ties with Kiev, though they have also grown annoyed with Ukraine’s slow progress on reforms and fighting corruption. Torn by growing eurosceptic and anti-migrant sentiment, the bloc has also gone cool on delivering a key reward to Kiev: dropping visa requirements for visiting Ukrainian citizens. “They have invited us to the large European building but tell us to wipe our feet. We wiped them once, we wiped them the second time, changed the shoes, put on slippers but are still standing in front of a closed door,” said Leonid Yemets, a Ukrainian lawmaker with the People’s Front group. “Now it’s up to you dear EU staff and bureaucrats. If you are not able to deliver on your commitments then, excuse me, but neither you nor we... need such a Europe.” Germany and France led the drive to hold off any new visa waivers before the EU beefs up an emergency mechanism to suspend free-travel agreements if needed. The bloc is wary of any repeat of a 2015 influx of some 1.3 million refugees and migrants, and leaders fear appearing soft on immigration following Britain’s vote to leave the EU and the U.S. election of Donald Trump as president.