The EU and Ukraine on Wednesday (29 October) launched talks on allowing Ukrainian citizens to travel visa-free to the EU, with Kiev hoping to finalise the process by 2012, but Brussels reluctant to commit to a specific date.
This is "really a very remarkable event" for EU-Ukraine relations, Ukrainian foreign minister Volodymyr Ogryzko told journalists in Brussels.
"For us, it is absolutely clear that this [achieving visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainians] should be done not in decades but in years: it is essentially important to finish this process before 2012," when Ukraine will together with Poland host the next European football championship, he added.
Ukraine itself granted visa-free travel to passport holders from 25 EU states in 2005 to attract visitors for the Eurovision song contest finals in Kiev, extending the deal to Bulgaria and Romania in January 2008.
"I am sure we will be done within four years because both sides have the good will to do it," said the Ukrainian foreign minister.
Speaking together with Mr Ogryzko, EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot declined to commit to a date, however.
"I took note of the Ukrainian wish, but I cannot today commit the commission to a deadline," he said, adding that everything would depend on Kiev's performance.
Member states get a warning
At the moment, Ukrainians need a visa to travel to EU countries and the process for getting one is lengthy and expensive.
This was supposed to change after a visa facilitation agreement with Ukraine came into force at the beginning of this year, aiming to make receiving short-stay and multiple entry visas easier for Ukrainian citizens.
But Kiev says the situation has not improved much since, and the government complains that different member states charge Ukrainians differently, demand documents that also vary from country to country, and, in the end, people are often forced to pay more than the €35 fee set by the EU in the agreement.
Additionally, Ukrainians say they hardly ever obtain multiple-entry or long-term visas - an issue that was again highlighted during a visit of Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, Kostyantyn Yeliseyev, to Brussels last week.
Spanish, Belgian, Dutch and German embassies are cited as being among the toughest ones to deal with.
On Wednesday, Mr Barrot said he had been informed by Mr Ogryzko about "some obstacles" in the application of the existing agreement and warned EU countries that he would look into the problem.
"I will launch infraction procedures if necessary" against member states that breach the rules, he said.
The talks on a visa-free regime for Ukrainians will cover four specific points - document security, irregular immigration, public order and security, and foreign relations.
Additionally, the EU "counts heavily on Ukraine's role in fighting organised crime, human trafficking and money-laundering, so we wish Ukraine to have a strong, independent justice system," Mr Barrot said.
For his part, Mr Ogryzko insisted Ukraine was ready to fulfill everything it is asked to, but said Kiev would also welcome some EU assistance in the process - "at least advice, some expertise," but also "financial assistance, if it is possible."