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Ukraine: Interview With Borys Tarasyuk, Yushchenko's Foreign Policy Adviser

The man responsible for foreign relations in the Ukrainian opposition, Borys Tarasyuk, has told RFE/RL his country intends to reorient itself toward the West. The man set to be declared Ukraine's new president, Viktor Yushchenko, has said Moscow will be his first destination as head of state. But Tarasyuk says while Russia will remain important, the EU, NATO, and the United States will become the country's priorities.

Kyiv, 30 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk is the man tipped to return to the post once Yushchenko is confirmed the winner.

Tarasyuk gave an insight into how Ukraine, with a population of some 50 million, could upset the balance of power on the continent if it flexes its economic potential and, as Yushchenko has promised, breaks free of Moscow's orbit.

Tarasyuk, foreign minister between 1998 and 2000 and dismissed because he was regarded as too pro-Western by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, said Ukraine will now deal with Moscow as an equal partner.

"I see it as an urgent priority, which needs to be paid special and immediate attention -- that is Russia. So many problems have accumulated, so many mistakes have been done, especially against the leader of the Ukrainian people, Viktor Yushchenko, that we have to pay adequate attention to turn this page and begin a new page in Ukrainian-Russian relations," Tarasyuk said.

He and Yushchenko have agreed that Moscow will be the first foreign visit for Yushchenko. But Tarasyuk is keen to stress that Ukraine and Russia this time will be equal partners.

"This will be the position of the new democratic authorities to extend the hand of cooperativeness, not of subordination, not of an acceptance of a domination or any kind of superiority. This will be the step of an equal partner with the proposal to establish a new kind of relationship between new equal countries, new equal partners," Tarasyuk said.
"After a new administration has been formed, and a new government, and the first steps of the new government will demonstrate that indeed the European Union has a new type of partner in Ukraine, I think that very shortly we will have positive signals from Brussels."

Ukraine's opposition drew Moscow's anger because it stated repeatedly it wants Ukraine to join the EU, NATO, and the World Trade Organization. The outgoing Ukrainian government had agreed to become part of a new Moscow-led union comprising Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, called the Single Economic Space. The future of that project is now in doubt.

Some observers have suggested a displeased Kremlin might try to punish Ukraine by exerting economic pressure, particularly by threatening to cut energy pipelines delivering oil and gas.

But Tarasyuk said that's not likely. He points out Ukraine is the biggest customer of Russian gas and that Russia is just as interested in selling gas to Ukraine as Ukraine is in buying it.

Tarasyuk thinks Russia has already lost plenty of international prestige by its intrusion into the Ukrainian elections -- something Moscow has been chastised for by the United States and EU. He believes Moscow does not want to further alienate itself from the international community.

"So this is the choice for Russia. I think that we may expect that Russia will choose the constructive beneficial relationship with the European Union and with the United States because this is in Russia's interests to build a constructive relationship with these most powerful politically, economically, and militarily entities. So that is why it will be contrary to Russia's interests, the way I see it, to behave in a manner which will be deemed unacceptable by the European Union and by the United States. So in this kind of interrelationship, interdependence and interests, we may find a kind of safeguard," Tarasyuk said.

Tarasyuk was the head of Ukraine's parliamentary committee on integration with the EU and has made it clear he believes Ukraine's membership in the new Single Economic Space is incompatible with Western economic and military bodies. But he says the Single Economic Space agreement should only be abandoned after it has been examined by Ukraine's legal experts.

Under its previous governments, Ukraine tried to gain advantages without angering Moscow by walking a tightrope between East and West. Tarasyuk said the country earlier declared its desire to join the EU, NATO, and the World Trade Organization, without making an effort to meet the democratic and transparency criteria required. Now, he said, Ukraine will have to overcome what he called the country's negative heritage from the Kuchma years by demonstrating its sincerity.

"Our first steps of a new administration, of a new government, [will be] to demonstrate to the European Union that it is now dealing with another kind of Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine, with a new nation, with a highly developed civil society, and a nation ready for consistent efforts, concrete efforts, in the direction of meeting the criteria for EU membership," Tarasyuk said.

Euro-Atlantic integration will be the priority, he said.

"I see the future [foreign policy] priorities more or less the same as they used to be declared by the outgoing authorities, but with absolutely different substance. There will be no lack of trust, there will be real trust toward the Ukrainian president and Ukrainian authorities because they will do what they are going to declare. That is the major difference. The priorities will be the same -- that is European and Euro-Atlantic integration, meaning European Union, NATO. Certainly we will continue to pay adequate attention to our neighbors and, among neighbors to strategic partners, that is Russia and Poland, and certainly the United States," Tarasyuk said.

He said that on recent visits to Brussels and other Western capitals to lobby for support for the pro-democracy opposition, he was struck by the warmth and goodwill shown by politicians and officials he met.

"After a new administration has been formed, and a new government, and the first steps of the new government will demonstrate that indeed the European Union has a new type of partner in Ukraine, I think that very shortly we will have positive signals from Brussels. Already the European Union has instructed the commission and the council to prepare a new strategy for Ukraine," Tarasyuk said.

Tarasyuk hopes the EU will make clear that Ukraine's membership in the EU, while perhaps many years away, will now clearly be stated as a possibility.