Ukraine Seeks Bigger Role in Europe

PARIS, France -- President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine used a visit here to defend his country's ambition to be part of Europe, even as further expansion of the European Union was being called into question.

Arriving in Paris on Wednesday, less than a month after French voters rejected the European constitution, he carefully avoided explicitly mentioning the goal of joining the Union.

During his first official trip to Paris since being elected in December, Yushchenko met with President Jacques Chirac for talks on subjects like stability in the EU's eastern neighborhood and energy security.

"Nobody can deny Ukraine the right to be part of Europe," Yushchenko said after meeting Chirac. "Whatever our status - member of the European Union or not - we are European."

Chirac expressed understanding for Ukraine's aspirations and pledged his support for its bid to join the World Trade Organization by the end of the year, according to the president's spokesman, Jérôme Bonnafont.

After Yushchenko was swept to power last year in a democratic uprising dubbed the Orange Revolution, the EU offered Ukraine a strategic partnership but shied away from giving it any prospect for membership.

The main reason for being cautious was concern that consideration of Ukraine for accession would upset Russia, Ukraine's bigger neighbor and an important source of energy for Europe.

But the crisis in the EU over the constitution has added a domestic dimension to the debate over expansion. Unease about the expansion last year that added 10 mainly East European countries and widespread opposition to Turkey joining the Union were thought to have played major roles in the opposition to the constitution.

In Kiev's efforts to attract investment and establish closer strategic and business ties in Europe, France has received particular attention this month.

A string of Ukrainian military officials came to Paris at the beginning of June. Ten days ago, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko came for talks with the new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, and a visit to the air show at Le Bourget.

Tymoshenko left two days later with 11 cooperation agreements in the fields of aviation, infrastructure and energy.

On Wednesday, Chirac and Yushhenko decided to put their foreign ministers in charge of drawing up a "road map" for cooperation in those areas. Chirac accepted an invitation to visit Kiev, though no date was set.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, wants to reduce its dependence on Russia for energy, notably by building up its nuclear energy sector, an area where France has expertise.

In a bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2008, Kiev also wants to improve strategic ties with France, one of the two main EU military powers.

Source: International Herald Tribune