Oleksiy Honcharuk’s Government Program: Analysis Of The Foreign Policy Aspect

The overall impression is that the Government’s Program allocates an unclear and sporadic role to foreign policy

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The Cabinet of Minister’s Program approved by the Verkhovna Rada Decree No188-IX on October 4, 2019, sets ambitious goals and objectives. The document shows the Government’s awareness of the fact that the next 5 years will not be easy, yet it is ready to take every effort to make Ukraine a peaceful, competitive country attractive for investment with business transparency, high social standards, a developed democracy, protected human rights and freedoms, and service-oriented civil service by 2025. In a nutshell, the Government wants to make Ukraine a successful model of rapid growth.   

The Government’s list of key challenges is as follows:

  • the military conflict in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts;
  • the loss of control over the territory of the Crimean Autonomous Republic; and
  • the continuation of aggressive action by the Russian Federation, up to full-scale military invasion.

Along with that, the Government believes that accomplishing the key targets of the Program will allow Ukraine to create a foundation to implement its strategy of full membership in the EU and NATO. Out of its 75 declared goals, 5 are directly linked to foreign policy. Some tasks for non-foreign affairs ministries are also focused on achieving compliance with EU and NATO membership criteria.

The overall impression is that the Government’s Program allocates an unclear and sporadic role to foreign policy while focusing on organizing domestic resources to ensure Ukraine’s development.

The analysis of the Government’s goals on foreign policy, EU and NATO integration:

The EU and cooperation with its institutions and member-states are defined as the top priorities in the Government’s foreign policy objectives. These enjoy special attention in the areas of education, economy, infrastructure, energy, development of communities and in the work of the Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.

Goal 1.1, the first one in the Program whereby “Every child has access to quality school education” mentions the EU. It says that “every child in Ukraine should have access to quality preschool education that will contribute to the child’s comprehensive development, the shaping of his/her personality, the development of his/her creative talents, and acquisition of social experience.” The Government aims to achieve indicators comparable to those of the EU. This means that pre-school education should cover 95% of children aged 4-6.

Goal 1.5. says that “Ukrainian researchers have proper conditions for research and are integrated into the global research space.” In this context, the Government plans to create an environment allowing Ukrainian researchers and scientists to integrate with the European and global research space: they will have access to the world’s leading research infrastructures and academic mobility grants. Ukraine will join the Horizon Europe framework and the European Research Area. It will proactively participate in the work of over 25 international research infrastructures.

Goal 7.2. says that “Ukrainian consumers receive safe goods and services.” Its implementation is directly tied to Ukraine’s cooperation with the EU. Among other things, the Government plans to develop a system of product quality and safety control and to revise policy for consumer protection. For this purpose, the Government is implementing the EU’s legislation in respective areas, accepting in Ukraine the lists of food additives, flavors, enzymes and statements on health benefits and nutritional value of feed supplements applied in the EU.

In the context of transport and infrastructure development, Ukraine plans to implement Goal 8.1., whereby “Ukrainian passengers and cargo senders have access to quality and safe railways.” “A lot of focus will be on the comfort of citizens: systems for passenger transport quality management will be introduced and monitoring will be done on the basis of EU standards.” The plan is also to introduce EU expertise and accomplishments: “To ensure comfortable, safe and fast car trips in Ukraine, the priority is to introduce an effective system of control for the quality of road construction and safety based on European best practices, and to improve road maintenance.”

Goal 8.4. – “Ukrainians fly more often and at more affordable prices.” The implementation of this goal is, too, linked to the EU. Among other things, the Government plans to implement the State Program for Flight Safety; Ukraine is represented in ICAO and is a member of EASA. As a result, the aviation industry should have the number of players that meet EU norms up to 75% from the current 25%, which will boost competition.

Goal 9.2. says that “Ukrainian consumers and business pay a fair price for quality energy goods.” Accomplishing this goal entails interaction with the EU on the launch of energy markets in Ukraine in compliance with the Association Agreement and the Third Energy Package, and fulfillment of the preconditions for the integration of Ukraine’s Unified Energy System with ENTSO-E, and of Ukraine’s gas transit system with ENTSO-G.

Goal 9.5 also requires taking into account the EU experience so that “Ukrainians are affected less by the accumulation of waste.” It envisages preparation of a package of laws based on the EU waste management directives to regulate the timeframes for harmonization with the EU directives and introduce the hierarchy of waste management operations, the principle of expanded producer responsibility or deposit return, and the polluter pays principle.

According to Goal 9.7.“Ukrainians preserve natural ecosystems for their descendants.” For this purpose, the Government plans to fully implement the EU Water Framework Directive.

Apart from that, Goal 10.1 whereby “Ukrainians live comfortably in cities and the countryside” calls for the introduction of the parametric method for norms in construction, the implementation of the EU Regulation 305/2011 to outline requirements for construction products and technical approbation so that new construction norms comply with the internationally recognized principles of norm-making in construction.

Finally, the key goal of the European vector is Goal 17.1 whereby “Ukraine meets EU membership criteria.” This entails coming as close as possible to all economic criteria for candidates for EU membership (Copenhagen Criteria) and joining the common economic, energy, digital, legal and cultural space of the EU. In order to achieve these indicators, the Government will complete the necessary reforms in all sectors covered by the Association Agreement. At least 80% of the EU acts will be integrated into Ukrainian legislation as per the Association Agreement. Ukraine will initiate adjustment of the Association Agreement to the real potential of Ukraine’s political association and economic integration with the EU.

Moreover, the Government plans to ensure the possibility to fully benefit from the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital between Ukraine and the EU for its citizens and businesses. One of the outcomes of these efforts will be consistent growth of support for Ukraine’s integration with the EU among Ukrainian citizens.

In its dialog with the EU, the Government wants to ensure a growth of direct investment to Ukraine from EU countries and an increase of the EU’s financial assistance to Ukraine.

In turn, the Government plans to set up Euro-integration offices in all oblasts of Ukraine with the priority focus on southern and eastern oblasts. The goal is to bring the possibilities offered by European integration closer to the citizens and businesses in the regions. The Government believes that the focus on regionalization of EU integration will allow it to channel additional resources to oblasts and communities so that the residents there could experience the benefits of Ukraine’s integration with the EU firsthand.

Ukraine’s Government thus mostly focused on “doing homework” in planning of its activity in the EU context. These include the Copenhagen Criteria, harmonization of Ukraine’s legislation with the EU directives and regulations, and ensuring continued growth of support for Ukraine’s European integration amongst its population. The Government does not set EU membership as a goal, yet a provision on EU membership as a goal of Ukraine’s foreign policy is recorded in the Constitution. 

Cooperation with NATO is recorded in the Cabinet of Ministers’ Program goals and objectives. In charge of implementing it are the Defense Ministry and the office of Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration This cooperation aims at ultimately bringing Ukraine into compliance with the principles and criteria necessary for membership in NATO.

Goal 15.1. The Government Program says that “Ukrainians are more protected from military threats through the new defense program.” Among other things, it entails the introduction of an effective system for defense forces command. Certain technical and administrative standards of NATO are implemented in Ukraine for that purpose.

Goal 15.2. is for “Ukraine’s defense forces to accomplish new capabilities that conform with the military criteria of Ukraine’s membership in NATO.” Steps to that end include gradual increase of the number of units capable of fulfilling tasks jointly with the respective units from partner-states; the introduction of NATO principles for command of defense forces and military command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine; the introduction of a new style of military leadership and a new philosophy of relations within the military staff based on NATO principles; and learning of NATO doctrines, procedures and standards, mastering of foreign language at a sufficient level and developing the necessary leadership skills. Also, it entails “effective cooperation with partner states, including on ensuring exchange of information, achieving compatibility and implementation of military-technical cooperation objectives.”

Goal 15.3. entails that “Ukrainians have real instruments for civilian control of defense forces.” This goal envisages the implementation of effective instruments of democratic civilian control, including through law, in line with NATO standards.

Finally, Goal 17.2. points to the fact that “Ukraine complies with the principles and criteria necessary for NATO membership.” This goal entails “maximum approximation to the principles included in the North Atlantic Treaty, including political, economic and military criteria. Maximum implementation of NATO’s chosen standards and procedures in Ukraine. Annual national programs under the Ukraine-NATO Commission that are as close as possible in terms of content and form to NATO Membership Action Plan and are implemented fully.” The Government will thus conduct a proactive dialog with NATO to ensure mutually beneficial and productive cooperation between Ukraine and NATO.

Apart from that, the Government will ensure that NATO’s assistance for Ukraine as part of programs and other mechanisms matches the needs and ambitions in relations with NATO.

For exchange of military experience and compatibility with NATO forces, the Government will continue joint drills and trainings with the respective NATO units and armies of NATO member-states. Its Program points clearly to the fact that Ukraine will continue to contribute to NATO’s operations.

In the context of Russia’s illegal occupation and militarization of Crimea, the Government is expected to pay special attention to joint activities with NATO to strengthen the Black Sea security.

An effective mechanism of civilian control of the defense and security sector will be developed in the interests of the citizens and of national security. This reflects the goals of which the Ministry of Defense is in charge.

In addition to that, the Government plans to develop the National System of Resilience in line with NATO criteria and practices to strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to prevent emergencies of all types, to respond to them effectively and to recover fully.

By and large, Ukraine’s situation with NATO is similar to that with the EU. The Government does not speak about membership as its goal while focusing on technical and administrative NATO standards, the implementation of NATO command principles and compatibility. Also, it focuses on the implementation of effective civilian control.

Economic diplomacy

Economic diplomacy is a key priority in the Cabinet’s Program. Quite a few goals of economic diplomacy are aimed at improving Ukraine’s image abroad among other things.

Goal 7.6. says that “Ukrainian exporters receive better conditions for work thanks to lower barriers for exporting Ukrainian goods and services.” In order to implement this, the Government plans to reach an agreement on trade liberalization with its key trade partners, prevent application of restrictive measures on foreign markets and liberalize trade in services. First and foremost, it should remove non-tariff barriers in the customs and for industrial goods (ACAA, also known as industrial visa-free regime in Ukraine), agricultural products and food, services etc. via mutual recognition of equivalence of regulation and mechanisms of economic integration. It plans to decrease export duties for Ukrainian produce to the key markets through the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU and other free trade agreements, and through upgrade of them; the use of WTO opportunities; and the removal of anti-dumping and protectionist duties covering Ukrainian produce.

The Government wants to promote exports via visits to key EU member-states, countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as other priority markets outlined in the Export Strategy; via participation in the key expos and trade missions. In addition to that, it will provide consultancy assistance to those interested in exporting their produce or services and support exports via insurance, reinsurance and guarantee mechanisms.

According to Goal 6.2., “Taxpayers enjoy smaller tax burdens and spend far less time on tax administration.” As part of this effort, the Government plans to “Improve Ukraine’s position in Doing Business to No25 in the Paying Taxes segment by the end of 2024.” Improvement of Ukraine’s position in such ratings will improve its image internationally.

Goal 6.3 is directly linked to economic diplomacy, pledging to “Decrease the amount of money and time spent by prudent businesses on customs procedures by at least 5% every year” and “Preventing customs violations and distortion of competition.” As part of this effort, the Government plans the following steps: to create a State Customs Service free of corruption; to establish a single automated information system; to integrate information and telecommunications elements of the customs service to ensure information exchange between 35 national customs services of the European region.

Goal 6.5. The Government’s Program expects “expenditures of taxpayers on debt servicing to decrease” while efficiency indicators include “the decline of the public debt-to-GDP ratio to 40% by the end of 2024”, “lower cost of public debt servicing”, “lower public debt currency risk via increased share of the public debt denominated in the national currency to 50% by the end of 2024”, and “the improvement of Ukraine’s credit rating to As.” The Government plans to ensure transparency, regular updates and distribution of reports and relevant important changes and developments in Ukraine’s economy; proactive work with investors and international rating agencies; organization of road shows for foreign investors. Coupled with the implementation of reforms, this should boost Ukraine’s sovereign credit rating to at least B+ in 2020 and A- in 2024, and shift it to a lower country risk category under the OECD classification. Achieving these indicators can be viewed as promotion of Ukraine’s image and as components of its economic diplomacy.

Goal 6.6. entails that “Ukrainians and prudent businesses are protected from financial fraud.” In the context of this goal, the Government plans cooperation with the EU and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Among other things, it expects to harmonize the financial monitoring legislation with the EU’s Fourth Money Laundering Directive and partly with the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive to create opportunities for deoffshorization and a risk-oriented approach to fraud prevention. The Government plans to implement other international standards, including of FATF. Just like in the previous case, these steps will be the reflection of economic diplomacy and help to promote Ukraine’s image abroad, if implemented.

Goal 16.3 entails “Proper support for Ukrainian business, culture and sports abroad”. It says that “the Government should support Ukrainian business in its development abroad. This support should not be limited to the analysis of foreign markets or informing the business about business development opportunities alone. The State will protect the interests of Ukrainian exporters, diplomats and trade offices will support individual important business contracts, contribute to the formation of attractive trade and economic regimes, decline of trade barriers and restrictions, and improvement of conditions for international trade.”

It is important to note that the Government Program contains a serious flaw: economic diplomacy objectives are delegated to several agencies, including the MFA and the Ministry of Economic Development. This leads to dispersion of resources and overlapping of functions.

Policy on neighbor-states

The Government Program mentions policy on neighbor-states indirectly, limiting it to narrow industry objectives. It lacks a vision of a potential neighborhood policy and of the approach to relations with the neighbor-states where problems have emerged.

Neighbor-states are mentioned in the context of Goal 9.2whereby “Ukrainian consumers and business pay a fair price for quality energy goods.” The Government plans to additionally assess economic relevance of creating an infrastructure of interconnectorsthat will allow Ukraine to benefit from importing and exporting electricity to/from neighbor-states in the near future.

Indirectly, Goal 13.5 could be referred to the policy on neighbor-states. It says that “Ukrainians are protected with a reliable border and happy with the services when crossing it.”This goal envisages minimization of transborder violations, the implementation of the National Integrated Border Management Strategy, maximum automation of transborder control processes, and joint border controls at the maximum number of border crossing points.

We can expect that measures to solve problems with neighbors are reflected in ministerial programs and plans. Yet, the lack of direct mentions of these urgent issues in the Government’s Program can be interpreted as insufficient focus on them.

Consolidation of international support for resistance against the Russian aggression

The analysis of the Government Program does not indicate that direct measures to consolidate international support for resistance against the Russian aggression are among its foreign policy priorities.

Goal 4.5 can be interpreted as a set of steps focused on countering Russia’s aggression. It entails that “Ukrainians face manipulative and fake news, reports and materials less often.” In this context, the Government plans to work with information attacks from the aggressor-state to curb their influence on Ukrainian citizens, including by undertaking measures to at least halve the consumption of content from the aggressor-state.” 

Obviously, the points mentioned above are not sufficient to consolidate international support. The Government should at least strengthen its work on international platforms, work out objectives for sustaining support of Ukraine in the UN and OSCE, and for keeping sanctions against Russia in place.

Ukraine’s image abroad

Promotion of Ukraine’s image abroad is reflected primarily in the Goals for Investment Climate Improvement, but some measures deal with Ukrainian culture and sports.

Goal 4.4. says that “Ukrainians understand the importance of physical activity and regularly engage in it.” It entails a focus on “a limited number of priority types of sports supported financially by the State that will seriously improve Ukraine’s performance and prestige in these types of sports.”

Goal 4.6entails that “People actively travel Ukraine for tourism.” In this context, the Government plans that “the number of foreign tourists grows by at least 500,000 every year.” The Government Program says that “for this, it plans to outline Ukraine’s sites on the world’s map of tourism, turn the current sites into brands and launch domestic and international programs to promote them.” “As important for the promotion of Ukraine is joining the existing and new chains of European tourism and cultural routes.”

The implementation of Goal 2.2 will boost Ukraine’s image. It entails that “Party to an agreement is protected from non-fulfillment.” This includes a plan to decrease the number of commercial disputes triggered by failure to fulfill contracts, including the number of investment cases upon lawsuits from foreign investors. Ukraine is expected to get on the top 30 in Doing Business for Enforcing Contracts and Resolving Insolvency; stick to investment agreements; modernize the current one on recognition and protection of investment; and be represented effectively in foreign jurisdiction bodies for investment disputes.

These goals are mostly for domestic transformations, not efforts to promote Ukraine’s image abroad.

Ukrainians abroad

According to the Government Program, the MFA will be mostly in charge of Ukrainians abroad with the accent on the work with the citizens of Ukraine rather than the diaspora. The Program does not take into account dual citizenship.

Goal 16.1. entails that “Ukrainians are happy about how the State protects them abroad.” For this purpose, the Government plans to strengthen the work of Ukraine’s consular service, including to make “100% of consular services accessible online so that all Ukrainian citizens can reach a consul 24/7.” Also, it expects that “the rights of Ukrainians abroad should be protected. There should be a full range of services for civil registration, notary services, help in communication with official institutions in the host country, representation and defense in foreign courts, and the opportunity to vote in elections in Ukraine.”

The Program mentions visa-free travel with other countries. According to Goal 16.2., “Ukrainians travel the world visa-free.” This entails “an increase of the number of countries which Ukrainians can enter visa-free. An increase of the number of countries whose citizens have a simplified visa regime with Ukraine.” The Government plans to “expand this list within the next 5 years to include Guatemala, Grenada, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Nauru, Palau, Peru, El Salvador, Samoa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Jamaica. In 2020, the duration of visa-free stay will be extended for Ukrainians in Argentina, the current travel regime to Mexico simplified and the respective talks completed with the UK, South Korea, Japan, Australia and others.”

This points to a visible bend towards consular work. Objectives in the work with Ukrainians abroad are de facto narrowed down to the improvement of consular services.



The Cabinet of Ministers’ new Program mostly plans foreign policy activities based on the implementation of requirements for EU membership. It leaves an impression of being somewhat eclectic and lacking consistency in setting goals. Notably, the majority of the Government’s Goals focus on domestic reforms and harmonization of Ukraine’s laws with the EU norms, directives and regulations.

The Government wants to accomplish criteria for EU membership, but membership itself is not a goal of its Program. Government officials prefer to focus on “doing homework”, including on fueling popular support for Ukraine’s European integration. At the same time, the Government Program clearly points to the need to bring the Association Agreement in line with the real potential of Ukraine’s political association and economic integration with the EU — the window of opportunity for this opens next year. 

The situation is similar with integration with NATO — the Government Program does not mention membership, yet the Government wants to accomplish compliance with membership criteria. Just like in the case with the EU, the Government plans to focus on “homework” and domestic reforms, ensuring effective civilian control, accomplishing compatibility and implementation of Annual National Programs.

The Government Program left relations with Ukraine’s strategic partner-states unattended as it does not define foreign policy priorities beyond the EU and NATO, lacks mentions of the US, China and other strategic partners.

Economic diplomacy looks like one of the Government’s priorities, yet this segment is closely tied to domestic transformations rather than foreign policy and foreign economic activity. Government officials plan to take efforts to remove non-tariff barriers, decrease duties for Ukrainian goods and support Ukrainian exports. Apart from that, the Government naturally keeps an eye on domestic reforms that should meet the interests of Ukrainian citizens and protect prudent businesses while also contributing to the improvement of Ukraine’s positions in international indices. It’s worth looking at the steps the Government plans to take to promote Ukraine abroad, including by improving its economic indicators, protecting investors, developing culture and sports, and increasing the flow of tourists.

The situation is somewhat different when it comes to neighbor-states. They are mentioned in the sections on energy cooperation and dealing with transborder crimes. At the same time, the Government Program hardly mentions the development of neighborhood policy and the solution of disputes in relations with Western neighbors.It does not mention regional initiatives, such as V4, the Three Seas Initiative and others. The Black Sea region is only mentioned in the context of strengthening cooperation with NATO partners.

The Government Program plans to strengthen the work of consular services and to deliver better on protecting the rights of Ukrainian citizens abroad. Yet, work with the diaspora does not look like a priority for the Government.

The Program pays little attention to measures to consolidate international support for countering Russia’s aggression. The impression is that the Government largely relies on domestic reforms, including of the defense sector, and on countering information attacks from the aggressor state, rather than on ensuring sustainability of international support in terms of diplomacy, security and sanctions. The Program overlooks the fact that this resistance should take place on the national and international level.