Yushchenko, Yanukovich Both Pursue European Integration

ATHENS, Greece -- Both Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich are pro-European and strive to intensify the former Soviet republic’s EU integration, Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ogrysko told New Europe in Athens on June 21.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko addresses a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana (not in picture) at the end of a meeting in Brussels.

Asked if both leaders are pro-European, Ogrysko said: “Yes, it is not only Mr Yushchenko and Mr Yanukovich; it is the Ukrainian people who are really pro-European oriented people. That is why it’s up to Ukrainian people to decide and they have already decided many, many years ago that they are Europeans and would like to be Europeans, not members of some structures with uncertain orientation.”

Ukraine has been rocked by a power struggle between Yushchenko and Yanukovich. The country plunged in a political crisis two months ago, after the president dismissed the parliament.

Both leaders agreed May 27 to hold elections in September in a bid to end a protracted political crisis.

Ogrysko said he is confident that the upcoming elections would mark the end of the country’s political crisis. “It is a very important period in our history and I would say, practically speaking, we have proved once again that Ukraine is really a democratic state,” Ogrysko said.

“It is period when Ukraine is not in the best internal position, but nevertheless we have shown once gain that instead of having tanks on our streets or casualties: we have roundtables; we have negotiations; we have other peaceful means, which can be used in democratic state. So I do hope that after these elections the situation in Ukraine will be much better internally.” He said he is confident there will be no room for political corruption.

Asked if the crisis has affected EU-Ukraine cooperation, Ogrysko said: “I wouldn’t say so because we have now broad range of consultations on all levels.”

He cited as an example the high-level meetings from both the EU and Ukraine in Brussels and Kiev. Most recently, Yushchenko visited Brussels on June 21 where he held talks with EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana.

“Now we begun this preparation of the new agreement between both sides so I do hope that it will be very important for our dialogue and I don’t think we can say about some slowdown in our cooperation,” Ogrysko said.

Even though the European Commission has repeatedly made it clear that EU membership for Ukraine is not on the agenda, the first deputy foreign minister said Ukraine wants more than cooperation within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

“We would like to have a very clear European prospective for Ukraine because we are a European nation,” Ogrysko said. “That is why it is obvious for us it is only the question of timing when Ukraine will be an EU member state. That is why we are trying to elaborate the new Ukrainian-EU agreement ... and after its fulfilment we can then immediately negotiate the process of joining the European Union.”

Ogrysko said he is familiar with the EU position on Ukraine. “No, for the time being membership is not on the agenda. But now we are trying to find very concrete areas of cooperation fulfilment of which can bring us much more closer and after that the question about membership will comeback to our agenda,” he said.

“Of course we are aware that we have to do our own homework,” Ogrysko said, adding that “for the time being we have on our agenda the WTO question. Until the end of this year, we would like to be a member of this organisation. After that we will immediately launch negotiations on the free-trade zone with the European Union. After that we hope that in early 2008, we will have this new agreement between two sides and step by step we will be closer to the European standards and at the end of this process we would like to have a clear signal that Ukraine will be welcomed as an EU member state.”

Ogrysko reiterated Ukraine’s strategic goal to integrate with NATO and the EU. “Only the combination of NATO guarantees and participation in the European Union gives Ukraine a chance to be a really independent and prosperous state,” he said.

Asked if EU membership or NATO is the bigger priority, the first deputy foreign minister said: “We have both European and Euro-Atlantic goal. They are not in any contradiction with each other. They can only be helpful in reaching each of these goals. If you look at the recent waves of accession to the European Union, you will see that many states of the former socialist bloc became NATO members first and only after they became EU members. NATO membership has not only military aspects but, first of all, political ones. That is why it is very important that Ukraine will reach the appropriate political and military levels and after that step by step the high economic standards provided by the European treaty.”

Source: New Europe