* Ukraine was promised visa-free regime by the European
* Kiev jittery about waning support in stand-off with Russia
* Ukraine minister sees 'complete impotence' in EU
* EU ambassador hopes for visa regime within weeks
By Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams
KIEV, Dec 6 Ukraine feels let down by the
European Union for not keeping to a promise to give its citizens
visa-free travel in the bloc, senior Ukrainian officials said.
The comments, made by two senior officials in interviews
with Reuters, were unusually outspoken and cut through the
public displays of bonhomie shown at a Ukraine-EU summit in
Brussels in November.
They are also a reflection of Ukraine's nervousness about
being abandoned by Western backers in its stand-off with Russia
over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for
separatist rebels in the Donbass region.
These worries have been heightened by events seen as playing
into the Kremlin's hands, including the election of Donald Trump
and the prospect of Francois Fillon, who favours thawing ties
with the Kremlin, taking the French presidency next year.
Ukraine was promised visa liberalisation if it met a number
of conditions, including steps to tackle corruption. But visa
liberalisation has not materialised yet as the EU wants to put
an emergency suspension mechanism in place first.
The mechanism would make it easier to suspend any
visa-waivers if the bloc sees a sharp rise in overstays, asylum
requests or readmission refusals from a non-EU state that has
had travel rules relaxed.
"While of course the Ukrainian president and his delegation
tried to keep optimism publicly, I understand very well if they
return to Kiev somewhat disappointed," Anders Fogh Rasmussen, an
adviser to Ukraine's president, said.
"I would even use a stronger word. I think it's a kind of
betrayal from the EU side, taking into account that Ukraine has
carefully fulfilled all necessary criteria for visa
liberalisation," the former NATO chief said.
European Council President Donald Tusk, who spoke Ukrainian
and exchanged jokes with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at
a joint news conference at the Nov. 24 summit, said he hoped the
visa-free regime would be in place by the end of the year.
But Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said the
Europeans had shown little desire to implement visa-free access.
"Only constant pressure and the constant raising of this
issue may force them to move forward," she said in an interview
at her office. "Maybe this is not diplomatic, this is probably
not diplomatic: we see complete impotence in the European Union,
and in the European institutions."
Giving an example of the prevailing attitudes, she recounted
an incident when, weeks before the summit, the Ukrainians were
told by the French and Germans not to expect a positive
"When I asked if they believe that it is unfair, that we in
many areas are discriminated against compared to others, the
German ambassador in Brussels told me 'life is not fair and you
should cope with this'," she said.
EU officials publicly say Ukraine and fellow aspirant
Georgia have qualified for visa liberalisation, but behind the
scenes Germany, France, Belgium and Italy appear to be stalling.
"The EU understands that, in the eyes of Ukraine, the
visa-free regime is a question of the EU's reputation," said a
European diplomat, who declined to be identified. "The EU will
try to do our best to provide the visa-free regime to Ukraine
based on the understanding of these risks," he said.
"Not everything in Brussels revolves around Ukraine."
TALKS ON WEDNESDAY
Representatives of EU states will discuss the issue again in
Brussels on Wednesday.
Hugues Mingarelli, the EU ambassador to Ukraine, said
Ukraine would be granted a visa-free regime as soon as the
emergency suspension mechanism was agreed.
"We all hope that this will happen in the next few weeks. I
cannot say anything more precise," he told a local news agency
in an interview published on Tuesday.
The EU and the United States propped up Ukraine with money
and diplomatic support after the country plunged into turmoil in
2014 and a new, Western-backed leadership took charge.
But since then, Ukraine's international supporters have
become increasingly irked by what they see as Kiev's patchy
progress in tackling corruption and modernising the economy.
Some EU member states want sanctions on Russia lifted.
Ukraine, in turn, has its own grievances. Kiev has bristled
at signs of a European rapprochement with Russia.
It also resents being told to do more to uphold its side of
the Minsk peace process, brokered between Germany, France,
Russia and Ukraine, to end the separatist violence in eastern
Ukraine, saying the onus is on Russia as the "aggressor" nation.
The Maidan street protests in 2013/2014 were sparked by
Ukraine's Kremlin-backed leader reneging on a plan to sign a
political and trade agreement with the EU. But the fate of that
deal, which was later signed, is now uncertain after Dutch
voters rejected it in a referendum in April.
"I think that there are many things that can be considered
as a betrayal," Zerkal said, when asked if the visa issue
constituted a betrayal.
"The decision on Opal was also a betrayal of Ukraine," she
said, referring to the European Commission allowing Russia's
Gazprom to use the Opal pipeline in Germany, opening
the way to bypass Ukraine as a gas transit route.
(Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko in KIEV
and Gabriela Baczynska in BRUSSELS, editing by Peter Millership)