A four-day conference entitled “Ukraine: The Prospects” began on January 31 in the UK, drawing leading experts, politicians, and diplomats from Ukraine and EU member states, including UK Ambassador to Ukraine Robert BRINKLEY. The British ambassador recently visited The Day ’s editorial offices to answer questions from journalists. The common thread in his answers is that much will depend on the Ukrainian leadership’s initiative and the government’s confident steps.
“The new Ukrainian leadership has identified Ukraine’s membership in the European Union as a strategic goal, and has declared its intent to make active progress in this direction. However, the response from individual EU member states has been quite lukewarm. What is Britain’s view of Ukraine’s European aspirations?”
“I welcome the fact that the newly-elected president, Viktor Yushchenko, is very clear about the policy and strategic goal of his administration. It is good for a country to have a clear policy . Europe has shown tremendous interest in Ukraine and solidarity with it in the wake of the Orange Revolution, when the people said ‘No’ to election fraud. Feelings for Ukraine are also strong. Now Europe in general and Great Britain in particular know a great deal more about you. Before, there was not much awareness about Ukraine. Two and a half years ago, when I was leaving for my posting in Ukraine, many people in the UK either knew nothing about Ukraine or had only heard about Chornobyl and the fact that it was a corrupt post-Soviet state with a high crime rate. While my friends, music lovers, were familiar with Mussorgsky’s composition ‘The Great Gate of Kiev,’ even my highly educated acquaintances didn’t know if the Ukrainian language was any different from Russian or was simply a dialect of Russian. But now, after the dramatic events of the past year, everybody knows what Ukraine is all about. They know that this nation aspires to democracy. A year and a half ago Kyiv hosted an of ficial delegation from London, whose members were visiting Ukraine for the first time. At the end of the visit the delegation head told me, ‘But they are Europeans!’ Now everyone knows that it is a European country. And, provided it develops its society and economy in line with European standards, it will be admitted into the European family as a member .”
“Kyiv has stated its intent to secure market economy status and outline the prospects for a free trade zone and a more liberal visa regime with the EU within one year. How realistic is this in the short term?”
“I believe that securing market economy status is a realistic prospect. Negotiations between Ukraine and the European Commission have a long history. The only issues that remain are two problems relating to the bankruptcy procedure and the control of price setting. As soon as they are resolved, we will be able to speak about market economy status. In general, this rather artificial problem is symbolic in nature, since other countries in the region have already been granted such status.
“The Ukraine-EU partnership and cooperation agreement says that a free trade zone will become possible after your country joins the World Trade Organization. Great Britain, the EU, Canada, and the US are assisting the Ukrainian government in its preparation for WTO accession. Last March, Ukraine and the European Union resolved issues relating to access to markets at the bilateral level. Kyiv has to sign several more bilateral protocols with other countries and complete multilateral talks. But I think Ukraine may join the WTO by the end of this year. Of course, Ukraine will then face the tough challenge of competing with other economies. This is a problem not only for the Ukrainian government but also for business people, agriculture, and all sectors of the economy. Yet, this will be a basis for free trade negotiations with the EU.
“I know that Ukrainians are very interested in a simplified procedure for obtaining visas. British nationals would also like to have a more simplified procedure of acquiring a Ukrainian visa. As you know, Great Britain and Ireland are not part of the Schengen zone. Still, I think that EU member states will be willing to negotiate a simpler visa regime with Ukraine. At the same time, it will be important to sign readmission agreements. The political background of this problem must be taken into account. You probably know that the issue of migration and asylum seekers is a very sensitive one in Europe. It is one of the three most sensitive political issues in the UK. This year we will be holding parliamentary elections, and in preparing for them the government does not want to relax migration regulations because voters are afraid of a great flood of migrants who will take away their jobs. Granted, this is not a very rational fear, but it is a fact that must be taken into account.”
“In a recent BBC interview, Viktor Yushchenko said that Ukraine would apply for EU membership as soon as the new government and a European integration policy department are formed. In your view, when should Ukraine submit its application: now or after it secures market economy status, creates a free trade zone, etc.?”
“Of course, the question of when to submit an application for EU membership is for the president and government of Ukraine to decide. As Turkey’s example has shown, quite a significant period of time may elapse between submitting this application and starting negotiations on EU accession. I think the most important goal is building a European society, economy, and democracy in Ukraine. Progress has already been made in this direction. The Orange Revolution has shown everyone that many people in Ukraine aspire to democracy and rule of law, and that it has a civil society. Yet, Ukraine’s per capita GDP is a mere 1,000 euros. This is very little compared to indicators for Poland and Hungary or the new EU member states. And this is only one indicator of the level of economic development. So, much remains to be done.”
“How do you picture the future format of Ukraine’s relationship with NATO? Many people expected that the level of cooperation would be raised during the Istanbul Summit to the point of signing a membership action plan. However, as the prominent British expert James Sherr said in an interview with our newspaper, in Istanbul Kuchma was mistaken for Ukraine. Does Kyiv have a chance to receive a signal from NATO now?”
“This depends on the desire of Ukraine’s new administration. I heard and later carefully reread Viktor Yushchenko’s inaugural speech and his speech in Strasbourg. He clearly spelled out the goal of EU membership, but didn’t say anything about NATO. Ukraine already has a partnership with the alliance, along with structures, joint councils, the Action Plan, etc. Of course, there is room for deeper cooperation, but this primarily depends on Ukraine’s desire. The ball is in Kyiv’s court.”
“The presidential campaign highlighted some painful issues concerning the so-called Russian factor . Many Ukrainians get the impression that in the West’s relations with Ukraine, especially in matters relating to NATO and the EU, Western countries are too mindful of Russia. The Western press, in particular in Germany and France, publishes many opinions by prominent people who say that the West must exercise a great deal of caution in dealing with Ukraine so as not to anger Russia.”
“During the Spanish Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow last December, President Putin said he would greet Ukraine’s accession to the EU. This is the Russian president’s answer to the question about the European Union. I think it was a good thing that President Yushchenko flew to Moscow on his first foreign visit on the second day after the inauguration. After all, as Yushchenko put it, Russia and Ukraine will always be neighbors and partners. It is a fact that economic ties between the two countries are very close. It’s only natural that they’re going to have neighborly relations as two independent nations that respect each other’s interests. The fact that the new Ukrainian president wants to integrate with Europe does not gainsay a normal relationship with Russia.”
“After some of our peacekeepers were killed in Iraq, the question of withdrawing our force acquired new urgency in Ukraine. The decision has in fact been made in favor of a withdrawal; it was part of Viktor Yushchenko’s election platform. Ukraine is a partner in the multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq, which includes Great Britain. What is London’s idea of acceptable terms, conditions, and organizational mechanisms for the withdrawal of the Ukrainian force?”
“First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences in connection with the deaths of Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq. We understand your loss, because many British nationals have also died in this country. Great Britain and Ukraine are working shoulder to shoulder to stabilize the situation and secure peace in Iraq. It is very strenuous, ongoing work. We greatly appreciate Ukraine’s contribution to the international effort in Iraq, where your country has made a very significant and brave contribution. You have deployed nearly 1,600 soldiers. The most important thing now is to hold consultations with the Iraqi government and partners in the international coalition so as not to create problems for the Iraqi government and its partners. None of us want to remain in Iraq a day longer than is necessary. The process of training the Iraqi military and police is underway, but so far the Iraqis cannot guarantee safety in the country all by themselves. The Iraqi government has invited us, the international forces, to provide help in line with the UN Security Council resolution. Important elections [were] held in Iraq on January 30. They will be followed by a constitutional assembly that should endorse a new constitution for a democratic Iraq. At the end of this year another election will be held to reform the new government in line with a new constitution. So, the political process will not end with the January 30 elections. President Viktor Yushchenko has already said that Ukraine will withdraw its force only after consultations with the Iraqi government and its partners. Holding consultations is the right decision.”
“A confer ence organized by the British center Wilton Park on Ukraine’s future development [started] on January 30 in Great Britain. Many people believe that now that a new team has come to power in Ukraine, its future is determined a priori, i.e., that it will become a member of the EU and NATO. In your view, what will be the most critical issue in this discussion?”
“I think it is Ukraine’s internal matter. Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections in March 2006. The new leadership has a very narrow window of opportunities (I mean time) to implement reforms, transform the country, and show voters that there have been improvements since the new team came to power. The new administration cannot resolve every problem in the space of several months. Therefore, it must highlight the priorities, decide what can be accomplished realistically, and focus its ef forts on it.”
“Which should be the three priorities (at least) of Ukraine’s for eign policy?”
“The first priority is to establish a normal relationship with Russia based on the principles of equality of two independent nations. The second priority is to prepare for WTO accession. The third is to implement the Action Plan that has been approved jointly with the European Union. This document opens many opportunities for Ukraine. Now is the time to use it instead of rejecting it and demanding a new plan.”