The Ukrainian president is sticking to the course he's been steering toward the EU, yet some critics blame him for the results of a Dutch referendum in which a majority of voters rejected the EU-Ukraine accord.
Predictable though it may have been, one might have "hoped for better results," said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin Thursday in Japan, where he's currently accompanying President Petro Poroshenko on an official visit. Just a few days ago, Klimkin was on a media tour through cities across the Netherlands campaigning for a yes vote on the Dutch referendum regarding the EU-Ukraine association agreement.
The results that came in late Wednesday night were devastating for Ukraine. A clear majority of the vote (61 percent) voted against the accord, which proposed the development of a free trade zone and has already been ratified by all EU member states, including the Netherlands. At just about one-third of eligible voters taking part, the number of votes taken was just a hair above the minimum required for validity.
Poroschenko wants to carry on
At first, the president criticized the vote as an "attack on European unity." He made reference to euroskeptic initiatives forcing the referendum and said that the vote was not legally binding. "I am certain that these results will not strategically hinder the path for Ukraine toward Europe," said Poroshenko. The treaty, which was signed in 2014 and parts of which have been in place since the beginning of 2016, would continue to be implemented in Ukraine.
Volodymyr Groysman, Parliamentary Chairman and close confidant of Poroshenko, spoke of a "worrying signal" for Ukraine. The government needs to analyze its failures and send both its own citizens and those of the world, "clear signals, that we will continue on the European reform path."
The opposition, however, placed the blame for the no vote on the Ukrainian government. The referendum's results should be viewed as a judgement on the "pseudo-reforms and corruption," according to a statement put out by the pro-Russian "Opposition Blocks," a party made up of hangers-on to the former President Viktor Yanukovych who fled to Russia in 2014.
Criticisms for the president from some of his own
Criticism of the president was even leveled from within his own ranks. The results of the referendum in the Netherlands should be seen as a "judgement against Petro Poroshenko himself," went a Facebook posting written by Mustafa Nayyem, the parliamentary representative from the Petro-Poroshenko-Bloc party in the Ukrainian parliament.
Instead of filling his ranks with members of civil society and the new generation, Poroshenko chose oligarchs and elites as his partners. Nayyem, a 34-year-old former journalist, is himself one of the future generation of Ukrainian politicians who was brought into Poroschenko's party after the power transfer in Kyiv.
Nayyem also referred to the Panama Papers in his posting, citing the leak that revealed Poroshenko's offshore holdings as one reason for the results of the Netherlands referendum. The image of Ukraine in the eyes of the ordinary European has been damaged as a result.
Oleksandr Paliy, however, disagrees. The Kyiv-based political analyst said in an interview with DW that one can't interpret the results as a blow to Ukraine. It's likewise not a judgment against Poroshenko. "Ukraine was not the topic of this referendum, so it doesn't bear any responsibility for the results of it," said Paliy.
Opposition discussing a new vote
It's unclear how Ukraine will carry on with the EU agreement. The ball lies now in the court of the Dutch government. Kyiv wants to continue on as before and implement the facts of the association, even when it's not formally been set into play. "The convention will be applied, perhaps with the exception of limits in the Netherlands," Paliy predicts.
Yet it can't exactly remain without repercussions. The heated discussion across social media channels show just how split the Ukrainian population is. While some of them see the reasons for rejection of the agreement as lying with the Dutch and Europeans, others - as the young politician Nayyem - place partial blame on the president and the government. The pro-Russian opposition is seizing the chance to discuss the move toward an early vote.
Incentive for new reforms
It also remains unclear just how this no vote from the Netherlands will affect the hitherto strong pro-European sentiment in Ukraine and possibly delay the implementation of the agreement. Many activists who took to the streets for months in icy weather during the winter of 2013/14 in support of the EU-Ukraine treaty have taken the no as a personal blow.
Nayyem, who was one of the first to call for those protests, had remained confident even up until a day before the referendum. "I believe that in the historical view, we will win," he wrote.
Voices in Kyiv suggest the Netherlands referendum is a signal, an incentive for new Ukrainain reforms. "One must finally look in the mirror," political expert Vasyl Filipchuk told DW.
"Without reforms, European integration can't help us." The leaders in Kyiv have to finally negotiate.