Ukraine leader confident of Trump support

Brussels (AFP) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko insisted Thursday he was confident of US support, saying President-elect Donald Trump had raised the issue of Russian "aggression" with him in a phone call.

The Ukrainian leader was speaking after winning pledges at an EU summit in Brussels to push through visa-free travel for his citizens, and for continued sanctions against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"I can confirm to you that the question of Russian aggression, of the illegal annexation of Crimea, was raised by President-elect Trump in my phone conversation," Poroshenko told a news conference.

"Ukraine has strong bipartisan support in the US Congress and among the US politicians, both Republican and Democrat, and we don't expect any significant changes in this bipartisan support."

Trump's election victory has been met with trepidation in Kiev because of the billionaire TV star's praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the two men's vow to normalise ties after years of tension.

The European Union has also urged Trump to match its commitments to Ukraine following more than two years of conflict in the east of the country between government forces and pro-Kremlin rebels.

- 'Ukraine is delivering' -

The West has imposed sanctions on Putin's Russia over accusations that it continues to support Ukranian-based rebels in a conflict which has claimed 10,000 lives in the past two-and-a-half years, a charge the Kremlin denies.

EU President Donald Tusk said the summit, which came three days after the third anniversary of pro-EU protests that toppled pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych, was "proof of our concrete commitment to Ukraine."

Tusk said Trump's comments in a separate phone call with him were "promising compared to some announcements during the campaign time".

Tusk added that the sanctions "remain clearly linked" to the complete implementation of the February 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine, backed by France and Germany.

"I hope it's something -- it's something more than only hope -- that we will decide on sanctions before our European Council (summit) meeting in December."

Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker both expressed optimism that the EU would finally approve visa-free travel for Ukraine by the end of 2016 after it met conditions including political reforms.

The 28 member states backed the plan earlier this month but final approval by the European Parliament has been held up by disagreements over an emergency suspension clause.

"We are very satisfied with the tempo and the quality of the reform process, Ukraine is delivering," Juncker said.

- EU 'under severe attack' -

The EU is still pressing Ukraine for further reforms, especially on corruption, as part of an EU-Ukraine partnership agreement that has angered Moscow as it sees the former Soviet satellite swing to the west.

Yanukovych was brought down by pro-EU protests after he rejected the agreement in November 2013, and later fled to Russia.

Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 and the bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in the following months, with the EU imposing economic sanctions after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko warned that Moscow was still intent on destabilising Europe, welcoming a vote by MEPs on Wednesday that called for more action against Kremlin "propaganda" and its support for populist parties.

"The European Union is under very severe attack on their principles by populists, by nationalists, by eurosceptics and by Russia," Poroshenko said.

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