Three Questions with Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze
On May 7, the German Marshall Fund and the Transatlantic Democracy Working Group hosted a roundtable with Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The event focused on Ukraine’s post-election path and what comes next for Ukrainians as they seek to further integrate with Euro-Atlantic bodies, continue on the democratic reform path, and deal with a hot conflict in the east of the country and with Russian interference. Earlier today, Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn in and is now the President of Ukraine.
What must Ukraine do to stay on the strategic course of NATO and EU membership, and are you concerned that the European Parliamentary elections will change the interest of the EU to further integrate with Ukraine? And how can the United States, the EU, and other partners best support Ukraine during this transitional period after the presidential election?
First, I think that our European and our Euro-Atlantic integration course is the choice of Ukrainian society. It has been embedded in our constitution as a strategic goal for Ukraine. Membership in the EU and NATO means that there shouldn’t be and are not possible compromises on the course. The question is the pace of this effort and further integration. In the last couple of years, we have ensured and built all the institutional infrastructure for this Euro-Atlantic course to gain speed. For me, the most important thing is not to lose the momentum that we’ve already gained and to speed up the process.
Also, we have managed finally in 2018 to enhance our partnership with the EU to the level of partners—which was not the case before. We have outlined several major priorities with Brussels based on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, which concern the digital market, the energy market, customs cooperation and technical regulations, and the justice and home affairs areas. We are already in the practical implementation of these major areas that would lead to the real sectoral integration of Ukraine and the EU. I would expect all the branches of power in Ukraine to work together because it requires the president, government, parliament, and civil society to work on this.
I think that the fabric of the European Parliament will change and there will be more populist influences, and even pro-Russia forces, in the European Parliament. But I do think that there will be a majority of voices there that have democracy, human rights, and rule of law as basic values and they are important to developments in the EU’s southern and eastern neighborhoods. I hope that we will still have a majority in the parliament that will support Ukraine and support international law to counter and deter Russia’s attacks on the international order.
I think first and foremost it’s important that there shouldn’t be any ambiguity about support for Ukraine coming from the United States, the EU, and all partners. I think continued pressure for reforms is necessary and for gains to be preserved. In Ukraine, we’ve gone through very serious and very difficult steps and I think that this pressure has led to a lot of reforms. They have moved forward because of the government, the presidential administration, the parliament, the pressure from all sides, and civil society. So, I think all of this must be preserved so that there are clear expectations and prospects for the Ukrainian nation.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn in today and Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections this year. Should Ukrainians be optimistic about their future given the changing political landscape, and what advice do you have for Zelenskiy?
I think Ukrainian society still expects rapid change. Which gives us positive possibilities for change. There is a readiness to accept the transition and transformation in the country. However, there is no one specific understanding of what that change should be because part of the population is very much exhausted by the economic hardships and the pressure of the war. We have stabilized the economic situation, but a more prosperous economy and more prosperous Ukrainian families is the expectation.
Regarding advice to the president-elect, I would suggest that he not cross the lines of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. For me, that is an important line to uphold. I think in the government and outside it, many forces are ready for constructive work on a common agenda with Zelenskiy if that agenda follows through on the desires that the Ukrainian people expressed back in 2014. I think Ukraine has paid a dire price for having the possibility to move in the direction of free nations and the free world. For me, that’s the major thing that must be preserved. That would be my advice because otherwise, you would have a very active and passionate part of Ukrainian society not agreeing with a change of course.
Do you think there is a possibility in this moment of transition in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin will try to take advantage of the changing political landscape in Ukraine?
I think Mr. Putin is already taking advantage of the volatile situation of the transition. His latest move includes making Russian passports available to Ukrainian citizens in the occupied territories. That’s an intrusion in the internal affairs of Ukraine. It might also lead to “illegitimate reasons for the Russian military to seek to illegally preserve or protect their citizens on other territories.” Also, in the last weeks, Russia has stopped the provision of oil to Ukraine These are very concerning and worrisome moves from Russia. Russia’s real strategic goal is to regain influence over Ukraine and to divide and rule in the free world.