RFE/RL: Why have the prices for vegetables -- potatoes, carrots, and other stuff -- increased lately?
Yuriy Yekhanurov: You know, I cannot be held responsible for potato prices, for the very simple reason that the people grow the potatoes themselves -- simple Ukrainian people in their plots. The state does not have any fields where we plant potatoes. Even the collective farms hardly grow any. In fact, almost all potatoes in Ukraine are [privately grown].
So, there were a lot of potatoes in 2004, because everyone planted them and the harvest was huge. That's why people planted less the next year. It just happened. But, honestly speaking, even being a professional economist as I am, I don't know how to forecast it and how to regulate anything in such cases. Buying potatoes abroad today wouldn't be the right solution for Ukraine. Though, this option is possible.
The price of sugar [also] went up. It did so because the prices went up at the London Stock Exchange. Russia increased sugar prices considerably.... We, first of all, have somewhat improved the situation on the border. Secondly, we brought together the sugar traders, and there are not so many of them in Ukraine. We warned them that we'll open our borders to countries where the sugar is cheaper, unless the situation with sugar improves. And our neighbors will be happy to bring us more sugar. And, thirdly, we used the state reserves. I issued an order [and] they're prepared to make an intervention at any moment. Now the price has gotten better.
Unfortunately, there are things that we can't regulate. That's life.
RFE/RL: Won't the adoption of WTO-related laws mean that potatoes and agricultural products will become even more expensive? Because this will not be an issue for just the growers, but an issue of the state economy.
Yekhanurov: Yes, we are preparing for accession to the World Trade Organization, and we've taken all the major measures, except for the adoption of several laws. I believe that we have a good chance of acceding to the World Trade Organization this year. I would like all our manufacturers, all those trading on foreign markets and all those working on the domestic market to understand that the time has come to prepare for the new rules of the game. Instead of running around crying and panicking for unknown reasons, they have to take the documents, look into them, and show some interest -- what is the level of prices in other countries today? -- and get prepared for the new reality. Today, almost 80 percent of the [global] economy, the legitimate economy, operates within the World Trade Organization. So, we have to be with all these civilized countries, and we have to work according to these rules.
I hope very much that Russia will enter the World Trade Organization either with us or after us. It would mean that we'll work with them according to the same rules. I don't doubt that Ukrainian goods will reach Vladivostok, because their quality is high, because our people are professional, you know. They drink a little less, and so on. So, one can say that we'll be viewed positively in international markets. At the same time, those who whine but don't prepare themselves will be vulnerable.... And the other thing is to sell the goods the way Lithuania, little Lithuania, does: they prepared themselves for EU accession and on May 2  they took their goods to Germany. They trade well on German markets. They've certified all their products. They work according to EU standards.
RFE/RL: Are you referring to individual traders or large companies?
Yekhanurov: I'm referring to individual traders. I'm referring to agricultural products. We have to do the same. We have to get ready. I'll never forget a farm manager from Cherkasy Oblast, who told me: "I'm ready! I can work on any market! I can do it!" And he really is able. I just want all Ukrainians to be able.
RFE/RL: Everyone is discussing the situation in Transdniester, which has emerged since the introduction of the new customs rules. I would like to ask you a question not about the rules, because their meaning is clear -- stopping contraband, bringing the situation at the Ukrainian-Moldovan border closer to European norms. But my question is different: why did Ukraine linger for so long with the implementation of these provisions and, by doing so, endanger its international image?
Yekhanurov: It's a good question, you know.... Let's look at the history of events. It was on December 30  that I held negotiations with Vasile Tarlev, the prime minister of Moldova, here in Kyiv. We went out to journalists and announced that we've signed documents and are going to introduce a certain procedure. I was in Odesa on January 22. I'm telling you where I was personally. There was a meeting among entrepreneurs of Transdniester, Ukraine, and Moldova. There were government officials from all three countries.
RFE/RL: Were they entrepreneurs registered in Chisinau?
Yekhanurov: These were people working in the export and import business. Really hardworking guys, company CEOs. I met with them; they asked questions. I told them: "We will change the procedure from January 25 onwards. Let's agree on it! What don't you like about it?" They told me what they didn't [like]. We sorted it out.
The Moldovans wanted a stricter procedure there. We, the Ukrainians, disagreed. We came up with a softer procedure. We didn't want any extra burden. But there in Odesa I realized that not everything was polished properly. That's why we postponed it until March 3. We postponed the implementation. We told them: "Dear Transdniestrians! Get ready. Dear Moldovans! Please adopt additional government resolutions. Please simplify the registration procedure, make it comfortable for the people to work with." That's what they did. It was only after that that the new procedure was implemented. What is going on now? I had a meeting yesterday with one of the largest Moldovan exporters. I asked him: "Do you have any problems with the import of products into Ukraine?" "No, I don't. All products are coming through well, there are no problems, there are no obstacles."
RFE/RL: Another topical international-relations issue is Russia's Black Sea Fleet. What is the government's plan for solving the issue of its stationing on Ukraine's territory?
Yekhanurov: Let us look at everything. Let us look at the agreement and the addendums, what has to be used by the Black Sea Fleet, how many square meters, kilometers, hectares, etc. The buildings they occupy, OK, that is agreed on, so why are you [Russia] going to take over [more]? You are occupying it wrongfully, not on the basis of documentation. Pay for it or leave. That is all we want to do. And we are doing exactly that.
This work has already started. The preparatory work has been done, and that's it. The Black Sea Fleet will stay here until 2017 according to the treaties, unless other decisions are made to extend its stay. Anything can happen.
The point is that everything must be in order, so that there is no embezzlement by their sailors or our officials, because all these discussions are always linked to private interests. I'm telling this to you having visited Sevastopol and traveled around Crimea.
I keep asking people in Sevastopol: "Why don't you utilize the 418 hectares owned by the city of Sevastopol and used by another state? Why don't you put the revenue from that land into the city budget?" We keep asking the same questions to ourselves, to representatives of the Black Sea Fleet, representatives of the Russian Federation. Now the discussion is proceeding well.
RFE/RL: You stated in an Internet chat [session] that you'd like to see yourself in the post of prime minister after the elections. What kind of coalition is needed for [that], because, to all appearances, Yuliya Tymoshenko's bloc is not going to vote in favor of you? If the Party of Regions is your rival, then how are you going to achieve such a coalition?
Yekhanurov: You know, talking about any coalition before the elections have taken place is just talking for the sake of it. I'm a very specific person...I'm very modest. For this reason, I would not like to discuss these things. It's not good for anything. Excuse me, but it is true, because I am a realistic person, as you know. I understand it as follows: we'll see after the election, as 39.8 percent of the electorate do not know who they will vote for, or are likely to change their mind. This is based on the latest polls.
RFE/RL: I'll tell you why I'm asking about these coalitions, the discussion of which is maybe not appropriate, as you say. This is because many people are worried about a possible coalition between Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions. There are more and more statements connected to this.
Yekhanurov: Who is making such statements?
RFE/RL: For instance, [Glavred website editor Yuriy] Poludionnyi, whom you know, I believe, published an article yesterday titled "Why A Coalition Between Our Ukraine And The Party Of Regions Is Inevitable." He explains that this is the best outcome for Ukraine.
Yekhanurov: That is his opinion. You didn't see any statements on behalf of Our Ukraine. Nobody, no member of the campaign headquarters, no one from our electoral lists has talked about this.
RFE/RL: You said something along the lines of "we will definitely win." Could you be more specific about what will happen if you win and what you are going to build in 3 1/2 years, according to the program of the president of Ukraine? And, to finish with, please try to look into the future. What kind of Ukraine can you see, let's say, on 15 March 2007? What about Ukraine's economy, international status, and [what about] your own place on the political map?
Yekhanurov: In the next year we'll accede to the WTO. We will become more prominent in the international marketplace. Our aircraft will be more interesting for others. We will establish several large corporations that will seriously compete in the international marketplace. We will have a clear-cut energy-supply-diversification program. And the energy-sector-development program that we approved today at a meeting of the government will be implemented.
The most important thing is for the people to see that we have become more qualified, more understandable, more predictable -- that we are calmly and surely implementing the program of President [Viktor] Yushchenko. On this basis, the authority of our president will grow, and the authority of our political party will grow.
Campaign stands on a Kyiv street in ahead of the March 26 elections (RFE/RL)
RELOADED DEMOCRACY: On March 16, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States OLEH SHAMSHUR held a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office. Shamshur discussed the political and economic achievements of the last year and the political environment in the run-up to the legislative elections. "Many people would say it was a year lost," he said. "And I would categorically, even definitely, object to that. I think that it was a year not lost; it was a difficult year; it was the learning period when we were learning, or in some instances, relearning to act under the democratic rules and procedures. Some mistakes which were made were avoidable, some were hardly avoidable, but in any case it was very important period for Ukraine as a country, Ukraine as a new, or if you wish, rediscovered, reloaded democracy."
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Click on the image for background and archived articles about Ukraine's March 26 elections.
Click on the image to see RFE/RL's coverage of the Ukrainian elections in Ukrainian.