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Ukraine: Premier Has Much To Discuss On U.S. Visit --> Viktor Yanukovych arrives with a reputation as anti-Western (file photo) (AFP) KYIV, December 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- William Taylor was appointed U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May, two months after the country's parliamentary elections saw the political resurrection of Viktor Yanukovych, now Ukrainian prime minister. Taylor spoke to Marianna Dratch of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on November 27 ahead of Yanukovych's official visit to the United States on December 3-7.

RFE/RL: Yanukovych has said that the United States is a country with which Ukraine must build strategic relations. Does the United States see Ukraine in the same way?

William Taylor: The United States does consider Ukraine a strategic partner. It is strategic in many ways. The people of Ukraine have demonstrated over many years -- but in particular over the past two years -- their strong desire for independence. They have demonstrated their strong desire for a democratic form of government. This in the United States' -- and indeed the world's -- strategic interest. And, as a strategic partner, Ukraine is a leader in that effort to move toward independence and move toward democratic government. The United States is very pleased that we are strategic partners.
MORE: Coverage in Ukrainian from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

RFE/RL: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney will be meeting with Yanukovych in Washington, but U.S. President George W. Bush will not. Is this simply because of the protocol of the prime minister's working visit, or is it more of a political decision?

Taylor: No, it is a protocol decision. President Bush's counterpart in the Ukrainian government is, of course, President [Viktor] Yushchenko. We don't have a prime minister, but we do have a vice president. In the past, on many occasions, prime ministers visit the United States and meet the vice president and that turns out to be a very productive discussion.

Vice President Cheney is, of course, very interested in the whole democratic and strategic flavor of Ukraine. He is very interested to get to know the new prime minister. He is very interested in some of the specific issues that the prime minister knows about very well -- in particular, energy, relations with Russia. The prime minister has made some comments about Ukraine's role with respect to NATO. These are all very strong interests of the vice president, so I think this is going to be a very productive meeting.

Energy Security

RFE/RL: Regarding energy, the United States has already offered to help Ukraine ensure greater transparency in energy deals. To my knowledge, there has been no reply from the authorities in Kyiv. Do you understand why this is?

Taylor: Energy security, of course, is a big issue for Ukraine; it is a big issue for Europe. And it is an interesting issue for the United States as well. We have offered to be of assistance in transparency.

But there are other ways that we have offered [help] that have gotten a response. For example, in nuclear energy security, the United States has been for the past several years conducting an experiment with Ukraine and its nuclear power plants to see if a U.S. company, Westinghouse, has the capability of building, of constructing, nuclear fuel that is compatible with Ukraine's nuclear power plants. This experiment has been going on for several years. It has another couple of years to go. It is about to be expanded because it is going well so far.

If this experiment, this pilot project, works, then Ukraine would have two sources of nuclear fuel. It would have the Russian source and an American source. This is good for Ukraine's security -- energy security -- because diversification is a key component of energy security.

Another example where we have gotten a good response from the Ukrainian government is in oil and gas exploration. Of course, Ukraine has great potential to develop its oil and gas reserves. A U.S. company -- an international company that happens to be U.S. -- has won a contract to explore in very deep water in the Black Sea, much deeper than has been explored in the past. Discussions are ongoing right now between this company and the government of Ukraine to come up with a production-sharing agreement that will set the terms for the development of those oil and gas resources.

RFE/RL: You're talking about Vanco Energy. I understand that there is a conflict regarding the future possibilities of this company to develop offshore resources in the Black Sea. Recently, Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko actually invited Russian companies -- specifically, Gazprom -- to participate. What are the U.S. expectations on this?

Taylor: U.S. expectations are very clear. We expect there to be good-faith negotiations between Vanco and the Ukrainian government and those negotiations are ongoing. We have no reason to believe -- we have no reason to even suspect -- that this contract will not be fulfilled. The normal procedure is to award the contract, which happened last spring. Then the normal procedure is to proceed to negotiate the production-sharing agreement. That is ongoing right now and we hope that will be concluded very soon.

WTO Prospects

RFE/RL: The key issue on the Ukrainian agenda is the World Trade Organization (WTO). In your view, what steps are necessary to ensure the speedy entry of Ukraine into this trade club?

Taylor: This is a very important trade club and it is very clear that the Ukrainians broadly and the Ukrainian government in particular recognizes the importance of this trade club. This is clear because of the speed and urgency with which the Verkhovna Rada is dealing with the legislation.

In answer to your specific question, it is important that two sets of things happen. One, the laws that are necessary to bring Ukraine into compliance with the agreements it has already made -- those laws need to be passed. A dozen of them, 12 of them, have already been passed. This week, the Rada will take up eight more and they can be done this week. If that were done, it would be a great achievement on the part of Ukraine.

The second thing that needs to happen is that there are two outstanding bilateral agreements that have to be finally negotiated in order to move to the final stage of a working group meeting in Geneva. The two outstanding countries are Kyrgyzstan and Taiwan. The Kyrgyz negotiation has been going on for a long time, and it still needs work. The Taiwanese negotiation, I understand, is virtually complete and just needs to be signed.

RFE/RL: When do you think Ukraine can join the WTO?

Taylor: It could happen this year. More likely is that the working group will go into early next year and then it could be the end of January or February for Ukraine to join.

'Better Information' On NATO Needed

RFE/RL: On the topic of Euro-Atlantic integration: The U.S. Senate recently adopted a NATO bill offering technical assistance to Croatia, Serbia, Albania, and Georgia. The Senate is ready to support the efforts of Ukraine should it decide it wants to join NATO -- but it does not, at the same time, offer any aid. Is this a reaction to the line of Prime Minister Yanukovych, who says that Ukrainian society is not ready for NATO?

Taylor: This is a reaction to the general perception that the Ukrainian people have more questions about NATO right now than do the people in the other countries that were listed in that bill. That is, the Ukrainian people, when you ask them today, less than half, well less than half, say they support NATO today. A little bit more than half say they don't support Ukraine joining NATO today.

And that, I think, is a good indication of what the prime minister said when he was in Brussels. He said that the Ukrainian people have questions about this and that he intends to have an information campaign to describe to the Ukrainian people what the pros and the cons, the costs and the benefits, the good things and the bad things associated with NATO membership are. We think that's an important thing to do as well.

When the Ukrainian people are ready, when the Ukrainian people have made up their minds, had their questions answered -- and, indeed, when they are asked, if they say, yes, then the door is open. The door to NATO is open and the Ukrainian people will decide when to walk in.

RFE/RL: The Ukrainian president continues to say that Ukraine's goal remains unchanged -- its course toward NATO. In your view, who is responsible for the fact that public support for NATO in Ukraine has declined over the last two years?

Taylor: I guess the information that has been available to the Ukrainian people has not been adequate from NATO, hasn't been adequate from NATO allies, and it hasn't been adequate from the Ukrainian government. All of these entities -- that is, the allies, the NATO organization, the Ukrainian government -- are in the process of developing that support, developing ways to answer those questions. And those are perfectly legitimate questions that the Ukrainian people have and they deserve answers.

RFE/RL: Yanukovych, before he went to the United States, said it is time for Ukraine and the United States to look into each others' eyes. When looking into his eyes, do Americans see any of the anti-American slogans that his campaign used in 2004, or has this issue been forgotten?

Taylor: Issues are not forgotten. However, many people have observed this prime minister and this government and have made the observation that things have changed. We know -- anyone who is here has observed -- that the Ukrainian people today, the Ukrainian nation today, is different from what it was two years ago. The politicians who represent the Ukrainian people and lead the Ukrainian people and take guidance from the Ukrainian people -- they have changed too. That's an important conclusion to draw. And it is important for the prime minister, when he goes to Washington, to demonstrate that he has a European focus, that he is very pleased to be meeting with Americans. The Americans are going to be very pleased to meet with him, so I think this is going to be a good visit.
Ukraine And European Energy Security

A worker inspects a gas facility outside of Kyiv (epa file photo)

MURKY CONNECTIONS. A year after the so-called gas war between Moscow and Kyiv, energy transhipments from Russia to Europe via Ukraine remain a concern. On December 1, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a briefing featuring Tom Mayne, an energy researcher for the London-based Global Witness. Mayne discussed the lack of transparency in the energy sectors of Ukraine, Russia, and gas supplier Turkmenistan.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 60 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


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RFE/RL's English-language coverage of Ukraine, Russia, and Turkmenistan.