Ukraine must battle entrenched corruption and implement stalled reforms that will help pave the way for implementation of a peace accord with pro-Russian rebels, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his new French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault said Tuesday in Kyiv.
Germany and France have led the Western diplomatic response to the crisis in Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have clashed with government forces in the east of the country since pro-EU protests ousted Kiev's Moscow-backed leadership two years ago.
But the aspirations of protestors have been slashed amid persistent corruption and political fighting that threatens international financial aid for the troubled economy and implementation of key reforms.
"We need for the economic reforms to be pushed forward," Steinmeier said at joint press conference with Ayrault and Ukraine's Pavlo Klimkin. "But it is essential that this policy is based on a principle of zero tolerance for corruption," Steinmeier stressed.
Germany's top diplomat admitted he had arrived in Ukraine "during a storm" but urged politicians to overcome infighting to overcome challenges.
Last week saw Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk survive a no-confidence vote over his failure to fight graft and the powerful oligarchy, even as President Petro Poroshenko - his ally in the coalition - urged the premier to step down.
However, the premier's survival was overshadowed by the ruling coalition falling apart after losing former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland party and the Self-Reliance party.
Yatsenyuk's People's Front and the president's "Poroshenko bloc" no longer hold a majority, meaning much needed laws are likely not to pass parliament. Early elections are now possible, which would be a further setback in implementing reforms.
Steinmeier and Ayrault insisted that tensions between Ukrainian leaders must put aside in order to put the country on the path to peace and economic growth.
"There is still a lot of work on the reform path. For this Ukraine needs a functioning government," Ayrault said. "The worst case scenario for Ukraine would be to stall half-way in the reform path - with half-implemented reforms and no prospects for the Donbass."
Ceasefire violations, gridlock
Meanwhile, the situation in eastern Ukraine risks turning into a frozen conflict. A peace plan drawn up last year in Minsk between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine has stalled as both warring parties violate a ceasefire and Kyiv fails to pass a key electoral law.
"We cannot accept that there are so many violations of the ceasefire and that the electoral law is being postponed" by Ukraine, Steinmeier said, noting Russian-backed forces have also violated the ceasefire.
"We need this progress for the Ukrainian people, but we also need this progress for the credibility of the Minsk process itself."
One provision of the Minsk accords commits Ukraine to pass a law that would allow local elections in rebel-held Donbass and Luhansk and eventually some form of special status.
Kyiv has resisted passing the law, arguing the border must first come under control of the central government or be monitored by an international force.
The foreign ministers came together in Kyiv ahead of a March 3 meeting in Paris, where they will be joined by their Russian counterpart to advance the stalled Minsk process.
Ayrault said the outcome would depend on both Ukraine and Russia making "constructive, concrete commitments."
"The situation is very unstable. We want to avoid a further escalation of the situation, the risk exists," he said.
cw/jil (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)