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Ukraine: Prodi Visit Allays Kyiv's EU Concerns

  • Ahto Lobjakas

The recent visit to Ukraine by the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, has brought some clarity to the EU's relations with Ukraine. Prodi told officials while visiting the Ukraine capital Kyiv that the EU's emphasis on improving ties with Russia will not harm Ukraine's interests. He also announced a substantial aid package to help the country overcome the effects of closing the Chornobyl nuclear power plant.

Brussels, 13 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- European Commission president Romano Prodi's trip to Ukraine last week coincided with a recent deterioration in the EU's relations with that country.

Ukraine-EU relations had been strained by Ukrainian concerns over the EU's plans to enlarge as well as by the anticipated high costs of closing the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The EU's proposed cooperation with Russia on energy issues has also hurt ties.

However, Prodi returned to Brussels with positive news nearly on all counts. An official with the EU tells RFE/RL that Ukraine's leaders were too preoccupied with short-term issues to be able to put too much pressure on the EU over longer-term projects, such as enlargement.

To be sure, Ukraine remains concerned over the possible effects of enlargement, including the introduction of a stringent visa regime on its western border and the impending abolition of the free-trade arrangements with EU candidate countries. These concerns, however, were overshadowed by more immediate worries, like the effects of the imminent closure of the Chornobyl nuclear facility set for next month.

The EU official says that instead of forcefully raising issues like future free trade and visa-free travel, Ukraine's leaders were more interested getting financial support to bridge the so-called "fuel gap" anticipated between the closure of Chornobyl and the launching of replacement reactors.

According to the EU official, Ukraine's leaders seem satisfied with the EU's offer of 65 million euros (about $56 million) over three years. Of the overall amount, 25 million euros are to be released this year and 20 million euros each in 2001 and 2002. Annually, the EU estimates the aid will cover a third of Ukraine's overall need for supplementary energy.

Prodi also conveyed a reassuring message on aid to build replacement reactors, saying the EU would probably approve a sizable loan as soon as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development approved its own loan package. According to EU official, president Leonid Kuchma seems hopeful the EBRD loan would not be blocked by either the U.S. or Germany. The U.S. in particular has been irritated by an outstanding case, in which Ukraine has not paid off tens of millions of dollars it owes to a U.S. exporter of agricultural machinery.

Prodi's visit also helped to soothe Ukrainian concern over the EU's planned energy cooperation with Russia. Ukraine has indicated it is worried by reported Russian plans to build new gas transit pipelines circumventing Ukraine.

Prodi told Kuchma the EU recognizes the significance of gas transit to Ukraine's stability and would support the continued exploitation of Ukraine's transit capacity. What is more, Kuchma expressed to Prodi his belief that Russia lacks the infrastructure to increase gas exports in the foreseeable future and is in no position to develop alternative pipelines.