Ukraine's Choice: Toward Europe
Throughout European history, my country, Ukraine, has been badly misunderstood in Western capitals. Until the middle of the past century, it was referred to as "the Okraina," literally the borderlands between European civilization and a distant and unfathomable Russia. There are perhaps many in Europe who still see us that way, but in fact things have changed in Ukraine, to an extent that surprises even those of us who played a part in bringing about those changes.
On Aug. 2, Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko, and I, along with other political leaders, signed a statement of principles that we believe will serve as the foundation for modern Ukraine. This statement will provide a blueprint for the government and a guide to reforms to which we are committed. Among the key points:
· Economic reform. Our citizens have been left behind by the economic "shock therapy" and subsequent wave of prosperity that has swept over Eastern Europe since 1989. We have seen what lowering taxes, securing private prosperity and liberalizing trade have done for our neighbors in Europe. Our government is going to be pro-business and committed to building an economy that will be competitive in world markets. Our first step on this path will be passage of legislation required for entry into the World Trade Organization.
· Political pluralism. The powers of our government are divided fairly and are faithful to the results of our parliamentary elections in March. The party of Yushchenko -- Our Ukraine -- continues to hold the presidency and ministerial positions in foreign affairs, defense, interior and the National Security Council. My party, the Party of Regions, holds the prime ministerial post and the majority of ministerial posts overall (they are heavily focused on the economy). The leader of the Socialist Party, Oleksander Moroz, is speaker of the parliament and a member of the governing coalition. My political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko is head of the largest opposition bloc in parliament and is already a candidate in the 2009 presidential elections. Parliament may at times be more raucous than the U.S. Congress, but it is no less representative.
· Constructive relations with Russia and, where possible, a broadening of cooperation. We believe that the core principle of both liberal trade theory and diplomacy is a respect for the political character and sovereign independence of other states. We believe these principles will guide our relations with Russia on a range of bilateral issues, including our discussions of energy security and cross-border investment.
President Yushchenko and I also agree that Ukraine has made a choice for Europe and will pursue closer relations with all European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. With the European Union, we are working on an action plan of reforms under the auspices of the European Neighborhood Policy, which we hope will lead to the beginning of negotiations on an E.U.-Ukraine free-trade agreement. With the United States, we are developing an action plan of anti-corruption measures and judicial reform under a grant from the Millennium Challenge Corp. And we are committed to continuing active cooperation with NATO.
As our relations with NATO have been a source of some confusion, let me be clear. The president and I have secured legislation that allows Ukrainian troops to participate in NATO exercises, in Ukraine and elsewhere. We intend to pursue defense reforms. But when an invitation is extended, we will hold a referendum in which the Ukrainian people can make their choice. Whatever happens in this regard, however, there should be no doubting our nation's European direction.
Finally, Ukraine is and will remain a country of great diversity. We have the largest Jewish population in Europe. I have many close friends of the Islamic faith, and we have countless Christian denominations, including at least three Orthodox ones.
Like Canada and Switzerland, we speak two languages, Ukrainian and Russian. I come from Eastern Ukraine, where the first language of the majority of people is Russian. This, too, has been a source of misunderstanding. Some have suggested that the cultural influence of Russia and the linguistic origins of people such as myself are proof that the Party of Regions is pro-Russian. It is not. The presence of Spanish-speaking Americans in the Republican and Democratic parties does not make those parties pro-Spain or "pro" any other country. By the same token, the American people should not think that my party, or for that matter any party in Ukrainian politics, is less than completely committed to the cultural unity and political independence of a sovereign Ukrainian nation.
Be assured, Europe and America need not look for Ukraine somewhere out on the borderlands anymore. After we have completed our reforms and built our economy, Ukraine will be found at the very center of the Euro-Atlantic world.
The writer is prime minister of Ukraine.