By Ata Ufuk Seker
BRUSSELS (AA) – The European Union has approved the disbursement of the first €500 million ($568 million) of an assistance program to Ukraine, the bloc said on Friday.
The EU “has today approved the disbursement of the first €500 million of the new Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA) programme to Ukraine,” the EU Commission said in a statement.
Under the new program, the statement said, up to €1 billion “is available to Ukraine.”
“The programme helps Ukraine cover its financing needs and supports the implementation of a wide-ranging structural reform agenda. The MFA funds are available in the form of low-interest long-term loans, conditional on the implementation of specific policy measures agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding,” it added.
“With this disbursement, the total Macro-Financial Assistance extended to Ukraine by the EU since 2014 will reach €3.3 billion, the largest amount of such assistance directed at any non-EU country,” the statement said.
The move came after Russia on Sunday seized two Ukrainian navy ships and a navy tugboat along with two dozen crew members off the Crimean Peninsula, accusing Kiev of entering its waters and provoking a conflict.
Ukraine accuses Russian warships of opening fire on the ships without cause, asserting that crew members were wounded and vessels were seized by Russia unlawfully.
Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea after a controversial referendum.
The international community continues to view the annexation as illegal, and the election Russia uses to justify its seizure as illegitimate.