Such was the inference President Viktor Yushchenko voiced at the World Economic Forum. He returned from Davos Sunday night after taking part in the forum (Jan. 28-29). His highest priority was attracting foreign inland investment and building Ukraine’s positive investment image in the international arena. “My objective was to convincingly portray Ukraine as a country worth doing business with,” said the Ukrainian head of state. He noted that “capital, especially big-time capital, will never feel comfortable in Ukraine’s current conditions,” adding that there is no stability or an independent judiciary system, and no guarantees of property rights. Another serious problem is corruption; every effort must be made to put en end to it, so government officials at all levels stop taking bribes, stressed the president.
In Switzerland, a shadow of the Kryvorizhstal deal constantly hung over Viktor Yushchenko. To the new Ukrainian administration the sale of this steel giant is ripoff, so they intend to reprivatize it.
A number of Ukrainian experts, including Yuri Yekhanurov, chairman of the pertinent VR committee, and Oleksandr Paskhaver, co-chairman of the UN-sired Blue Ribbon Commission, believe that this approach may have a negative effect on the Ukrainian investment image. Despite the favorable atmosphere of Viktor Yushchenko’s visit to Davos, voices expressing concern over such reprivatization were also heard. An Indian dignitary attended not only events organized by Yushchenko, but also a business party thrown by ex-President Leonid Kuchma’s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk (one of Kryvorizhstal’s owners) where the noted financier George Soros was also present.
The Indian VIP wanted to know if there could be additional clauses when selling Kryvorizhstal, as practiced previously. He was assured there would be none and that he could get his money ready... The observant potential investor, however, must have noticed that there was no hidden enmity about Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Pinchuk shaking hands. Also, one of the Ukrainian president’s closest associates, Oleh Rybachuk, when asked by journalists about the possibility of Kryvorizhstal’s reprivatization, did not sound explicitly resolved... Apparently, the national image is not worth risking even over such a big deal.
While in Davos, President Yushchenko indefatigably worked to build this image. During a meeting with ex-US President Bill Clinton, Mr. Yushchenko stressed that he regarded the Ukrainian market as one of the most promising in Europe; he felt sure that the new administration would secure equal rules of the game for all businesses. Addressing a PACE session in Strasbourg, before visiting Davos, Viktor Yushchenko promised to provide all conditions for a foreign inland investment influx, adding that it was worth $600 million at present, compared to $7 billion in Poland and $6.5 billion in Russia. He said that Europe sees Ukraine today as a sleeping elephant, but if the new administration embarks on an effective domestic policy, in a year’s time Europe will see a most modern market in Ukraine, and that Ukraine has every opportunity to do so.
At a press conference in Davos on Saturday, Viktor Yushchenko informed that a meeting of businesspeople interested in Ukraine will be held in Kyiv this year, and described the event as a miniature Davos. Addressing the prospective investors, he said they were all welcome in Ukraine and asked them not to give any bribes to anyone but save the money.
The Council of the European Union will consider the European Commission’s draft 10-point Ukraine-EU Action Plan. The document will be presented by EU High Commissioner for Foreign Policy and Security Xavier Solana and Commissioner for External Relations & European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Viktor Yushchenko discussed Ukraine’s European prospects with European Commissioner Jose Barros in Davos on Saturday. It was agreed that the Ukrainian president will visit Brussels in February to meet with the European Commission’s leadership. Viktor Yushchenko said that problems relating to Ukraine, particularly the possibility of its status as a market-economy country, will be discussed during these meetings.