Ukraine to receive 600 million euros in EU aid, Commission says

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission agreed on Thursday to send Ukraine 600 million euros ($643.20 million) to help its finances, ending months of delays over EU conditions linked to the loan.

With Ukraine facing its third year of a separatist war, the EU executive softened demands that Kiev first lift a ban on Ukrainian wood exports, saying the money could now be sent because the government had submitted a bill to change policy.

“The Commission expects that the law on the timber export ban presented to the Ukrainian Parliament will be adopted without delay,” it said in a statement

The money, which takes the total of EU loans sent to Ukraine to 2.8 billion euros since 2014, will be released to Kiev later this month or in early April once the executive has raised the funds on capital markets, the Commission said.

In February, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promised Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman to unblock the 600-million euro tranche, in a gesture to the former Soviet state that the European Union seeks to bring closer to the West.

A final 600-million euro disbursement is still available under the aid package, which expires in January 2018.

The West has been seeking to modernize one of the world’s most corrupt countries since the 2013-14 pro-European uprising which ousted Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovich.

The EU is working with Kiev to implement a broad trade deal that has been at the heart of tensions with Russia. Moscow wanted Ukraine to instead join its free-trade bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, which includes the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Kiev and the West accuse Russia of trying to destabilize Ukraine by financing separatists in a war in the country’s east that has killed some 10,000 people since April 2014.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones