EU to provide Ukraine with aid worth $15 billion

Associated Press
Anti-Yanukovych protesters warm themselves next to a fire in Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Stepping back from the brink of war, Vladimir Putin talked tough but cooled tensions in the Ukraine crisis Tuesday, saying Russia has no intention "to fight the Ukrainian people" but reserves the right to use force. As the Russian president held court in his personal residence, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kiev's fledgling government and urged Putin to stand down. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
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BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is proposing to provide Ukraine an 11 billion euros ($15 billion) aid package in loans and grants over the coming years, the head of the bloc's executive arm said Wednesday.

The package will include 1.6 billion euros in loans and 1.4 billion euros in grants from the EU budget and up to 8 billion euros fresh credit from the EU's financial institutions, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In addition, another 3.5 billion euros could "potentially" come from the bloc's assistance to neighboring countries through 2020, the European Commission said.

The package is "designed to assist a committed, inclusive and reforms oriented Government in rebuilding a stable and prosperous future for Ukraine," Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

The United States announced a $1 billion aid package in energy subsidies Tuesday. Kiev estimates it needs $35 billion in international rescue loans over the next two years. The International Monetary Fund is expected to play a key role in providing those bailout loans.

The EU package also foresees helping to modernize the country's gas transit system and providing technical assistance ranging from judicial reform to assistance in preparing elections, the Commission said. The package also calls for steps to accelerate achieving visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the 28-nation bloc.

That measure, if approved, would go down particularly badly in Moscow, since Russia has sought visa-free travel to Europe for its citizen for years. Suspending discussions on that project are among the punitive measures against Russia over its move against Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, which are being weighed by EU leaders at an emergency meeting Thursday.

Coincidentally, the headline figure of $15 billion for the EU's assistance package is the same amount that Russia was prepared to grant Ukraine in loans until the government of President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted last month.

Yanukovich took the Russian loans instead of a wide-ranging trade and economic agreement with the EU, which fuelled the protests that eventually led to his ouster.

Barroso insisted that agreement was still on the table, and the EU is prepared to provisionally grant Ukraine the benefits deriving from it before a full ratification.

The timeline over which the EU funds and loans would be disbursed varied from a few hundred million euros this year to multi-billions between now and 2020. But the details were left vague because the situation in Ukraine is still uncertain and negotiations between Kiev and the IMF are ongoing, EU officials said.

Most disbursements will likely hinge on the formation of a new government in Ukraine after the May elections and an agreement on wide-ranging economic reforms with the IMF. The fund will likely insist, among other things, on a currency devaluation and a sharp rise of natural gas prices, which Ukraine subsidizes heavily.

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