Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 18

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko

Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on January 25, President Viktor Yushchenko defined “Ukrainians as a European nation that could not tolerate an assault on its freedoms, [and] stood up and defended their right to a free and fair election.” Yushchenko credited the Orange Revolution “largely to the fact that European values have taken root in my people’s mentality.” For this he paid tribute to the Council of Europe’s decade-long efforts supporting constitutional and legislative reform, freedom of speech, and democratic elections in Ukraine. Expressing gratitude for the “sometimes tough criticism over these 10 difficult years,” Yushchenko offered “special thanks for courage” to the Council of Europe’s long-serving rapporteurs on Ukraine, Hanne Severinsen of Denmark and Renate Wohlwend of Luxemburg, “Who were the eyes, voice, and conscience of Europe in Ukraine.”

Yushchenko defined Ukraine’s main national goal as continuing its internal transformations to achieve membership in the European Union. He urged the EU to develop a new strategy for relations with Ukraine, including a prospect of full membership; to advance beyond the existing EU-Ukraine Action Plan within the European Neighborhood Policy, which has been overtaken by political changes in Ukraine; to simplify travel and visa procedures between Ukraine and EU countries; and, in the course of 2005, to confer market-economy status and World Trade Organization membership on Ukraine, and to conclude a EU-Ukraine free trade area agreement.

As part of efforts to promote these goals, Yushchenko sketched the outlines of a program to “ensure the irreversibility of the transformations in Ukraine” through democratic institution-building, encouraging free media, guaranteeing property rights and the judiciary’s independence, combating “rampant corruption,” and adapting Ukraine’s legislation and practices to European standards. He called for upgrading Council of Europe-Ukraine relations from monitoring to partnership, so as to bring Ukraine within the single European area of democratic stability, a central goal of this organization. (TV Channel Five, Interfax, January 25).

Russian delegates instantly challenged Yushchenko. In his reply to Russian Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov’s questions from the floor, Yushchenko named three principles underlying Ukraine’s attitude toward the Russia-initiated Single Economic Space (SES). First, Ukraine seeks “formalization” [long-term legal basis] of relations with Russia on the bilateral level [as distinct from relations in a multilateral framework]. Second, the functioning of SES and particularly of its planned supranational bodies must not contravene Ukraine’s national interests. And, third, SES undertakings must not interfere with the requirements of EU-Ukraine integration. (TV Channel Five, January 25).

Although Yushchenko reiterated in his reply (as he had on the preceding day in Moscow), “Russia is a permanent strategic partner of Ukraine,” this was far from sufficient to Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, also present. In a Russian media interview, Kosachev faulted Yushchenko for “never mentioning Russia in his [prepared] speech, while mentioning Europe and the EU in every other sentence of that speech. This rings an alarm bell.” Kosachev complained that Ukraine’s new leadership “does not regard cooperation with Russia as a goal in itself, but only as a factor that may or may not harm Ukraine’s integration with Europe.”

Kosachev went on to characterize Yushchenko’s nomination (subject to parliamentary confirmation) of Yulia Tymoshenko for prime minister of Ukraine as “effrontery, a move unfriendly to Russia . . . an openly provocative step.” Such inflammatory wording appears designed to fuel opposition to Yushchenko in the Ukrainian parliament, a cross-party delegation of which sits in the Strasbourg forum. Kosachev approved of just one step taken by Yushchenko thus far: the stated intention to withdraw Ukrainian troops from the American-led coalition in Iraq. “This shows that the new Ukrainian leadership can conduct an independent foreign policy, not one based on some notions of Euro-Atlantic solidarity” (Interfax, January 25).

Also on January 25 in Strasbourg, Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili jointly opened an exhibition of photographs from the Ukrainian Orange Revolution and the Georgian Rose Revolution. Commenting approvingly on Yushchenko’s decision to visit Moscow first as president (January 24) “in the interest of close and tranquil relations with Moscow,” Saakashvili recalled that he had tried the same approach immediately after being elected president last year, but it did not bring the desired improvement in relations. On the contrary, Russia’s behavior toward Georgia “changed in the last year and the last few months in ways that arouse indignation. Hopefully, this will not happen with Ukraine” (Le Monde cited by Interfax, January 25; see EDM, January 25).