Op-Ed by Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs & Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister
In the heart of Kyiv stands a memorial to those ordinary citizens, the “heavenly hundred”, who gave their lives at the height of Ukraine’s “revolution of dignity” so that their country might enjoy a European and not a Russian future. They were shot down by snipers in Independence Square – better known as the Maidan – as the old regime tried its utmost to crush the revolution.
Ever since those tumultuous days in 2014, Ukraine’s new government – helped by Britain and other allies – has tried to ensure the sacrifice was not in vain. Our shared goal is to build a successful and prosperous Ukraine, worthy of the courage and ideals of those who joined the revolution.
President Poroshenko’s government has carried out the most ambitious reforms since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. More progress has been made in the last three years than in the 23 years before the Maidan revolution.
Today all Ukrainian members of parliament and government employees – over one million people in total – are obliged to submit electronic declarations of their assets and incomes for all to see. This new rule is a vital step towards transparency and fighting corruption. Britain has also helped to establish an increasingly effective National Anti-Corruption Bureau in Kyiv.
At the same time, an e-procurement system, ProZorro is designed to drive out corruption from government departments and other state bodies.
Meanwhile, the central government has begun a rolling programme of decentralisation, empowering ordinary citizens by devolving more responsibilities and funds to local level. In energy, banking and the economy, the authorities have pressed ahead with desperately needed reforms.
The rewards are starting to show through. After two years when the economy shrank by 5%, last year saw growth of 2.3% – with 3% predicted for 2017.
Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union will finally come into force this year. It was the former government’s refusal to sign this agreement back in 2013 that sparked the Maidan revolution in the first place. And Ukrainian citizens now also enjoy visa-free travel within the Schengen Area.
But we have no doubt that far more remains to be done. And on a fundamental level more needs to be done to combat corruption, which will never be eradicated until Ukrainians have a judiciary that is worthy of their confidence. Clean administration will only be possible in a country dominated by the rule of law.
Those who benefited from the old system can be relied upon to fight tenaciously to maintain their privileges. So the task of building a prosperous and stable Ukraine will demand resolute leadership from Kyiv, along with steadfast support from the international community.
Hence the importance of the Ukraine Reform Conference, that we will co-host in London on 6 July. Our shared purpose is for Britain to help reinforce outside assistance for Ukraine, in return for accelerated progress on reforms.
The Conference will bring together the international community and Ukrainian leaders in support of the government’s reform plan for the period until 2020.
The UK has been one of Ukraine’s closest allies, doing all it can to help deliver reform, fight against corruption and deploying a British military training mission, Operation Orbital, to strengthen the Ukrainian armed forces.
And there are fundamental questions of principle at stake. In the end, the safety of every nation depends on the essential rule that no country should acquire territory or redraw borders by force. Russia’s attempted illegal annexation of Crimea – and the deployment of troops and heavy weapons in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine –broke the first principle of the international order.
So far, the conflict in Ukraine has claimed 10,000 lives, wounded almost 24,000 and driven over 2 million people from their homes. Today, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens the security of Europe as a whole.
But as we press on with the task of reform and progress, we are encouraged by some essential truths. With 44 million people and a rich endowment of natural resources, Ukraine has immense potential. There is no reason why its citizens should not enjoy the same prosperity and quality of life as their European neighbours.
We must stand united in the face of this challenge. The Ukraine Reform Conference will send a message of solidarity, determination and an absolute commitment to hold fast to the path of reform.