RFE/RL: The oil conflict between Russia and Belarus has been taken care of and Europe has sighed in relief. But an unpleasant aftertaste remains for many. How do you assess what happened between Moscow and Minsk? What lessons has Ukraine learned from this?
Borys Tarasyuk: Ukraine went through a similar unpleasant situation a year ago. Actually, Ukraine's experience propelled the EU, united Europe to react to these types of situation through a new energy strategy. As we all know, the EU is currently working according to this new strategy. This is the result of last year's standoff between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. A year later, this standoff is being repeated, this time with Belarus. United Europe and every country for that matter should work to reduce its dependence on a single energy source. First of all, we need to diversify energy supplies and, secondly, we must develop and adopt common rules, which are the same for all, whether it is Russia, Ukraine, and Germany.
RFE/RL: On whose side was Ukraine in this conflict? Do you believe that Ukraine maintained a neutral position?
Tarasyuk: Certain statements were made by government members, in my opinion these statements were not very tactful as regarding Belarus. These comments made no sense, as Ukraine had no possibility to change the transit route of Russian oil to a united Europe. The very same oil pipeline, which goes through Belarus, continues through Ukraine. This is one pipeline. In this instance, our sympathies should be with a single set of rules, a single set of standards, which are dictated by the European Energy Charter. Ukraine is a part of this charter. If all countries abided by the provisions of this charter, we wouldn't have such critical situations.
RFE/RL: What is the future of the Odesa-Brody pipeline? For years, talks have continued on this topic. Can you tell us when Caspian oil will begin flowing through the Odesa-Brody pipeline? Will this day ever come?
Tarasyuk: This could happen in 2008-09. The issue here is not the unwillingness of certain politicians, but the real presence of oil resources. According to our plans, this will happen in 2008-09.
RFE/RL: Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka recently called on Ukraine to join Belarus in forming a common energy front in relations with Russia. Should we expect such a front next month, in February, when the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus are scheduled to meet?
Tarasyuk: I wouldn't talk about such a meeting as a certainty.
RFE/RL: Lukashenka has said that this meeting will take place.
Tarasyuk: There is a proposal and it is being considered. It's too early to talk about the timing of this visit because for us the results of a meeting are more important than the meeting itself.
RFE/RL: What about an energy front vis-a-vis Russia. Is this possible?
Tarasyuk: I think that in this type of war, no one can win. Military terminology is inappropriate here. The issue here is cooperation and mutual interest. Do they exist for Ukraine and Belarus? Yes. Is there the possibility to unify these interests, yes there is, for Ukraine as well as for Belarus.
RFE/RL: Let's talk for a bit about your visit to the Czech Republic. Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a declared Euroskeptic, has just said that joining the EU did not bring the people of the Czech Republic or Slovakia any considerable gain. How do you read this statement? Will you try to determine what this really means?
Tarasyuk: Certainly, being here in Prague, I will try to determine what led to such a sentiment. The information that I have shows that both the citizens and business community of new EU members benefit from EU membership. Perhaps there is something unique about the Czech Republic; I will try to ascertain this.
RFE/RL: The Czech Republic traditionally underscores that it has always supported and will continue to support Ukraine's "Eurointegration" course. In Ukraine, the issue of a NATO referendum is being discussed, possibly before realistic talks about membership even begin. What can the consequences of such a referendum be for Ukrainian "Eurointegration"?
Tarasyuk: In 2005, [then Foreign] Minister Cyril Svoboda and I signed a document outlining our European and Euro-Atlantic integration cooperation priorities. Today, we will be signing additional documents, which will make concrete our European cooperation. As for the referendum, I personally see no sense in conducting such a referendum because opinion polls show that Ukrainian society is not ready for such a referendum. If a referendum must be conducted on this issue, then it should be done no sooner than 2008-09. In any case, as far as I know, the [Ukrainian] president intends to pass this question onto the Ukrainian Constitutional Court for consideration.
RFE/RL: Is the Ukrainian government doing enough to inform Ukrainian society about NATO? While he was in Washington, D.C., last December, Prime Minister [Viktor] Yanukovych promised to devote much effort to this issue. What is really happening?
Tarasyuk: Yes, a promise was made to become more active in this regard and to engage the entire government in this endeavor.Allow me to quote some figures. In 2006, 5.2 million hryvnyas [slightly over $1 million] was budgeted for this. In 2007, only 5 million. So we see that declarations differ from deeds. Ukraine enacted an information program, which was to be enforced in 2004 through 2007. This program should be carried out. As far as this is concerned, just in the past year the Foreign Ministry has done an awful lot to realize this program. We hope that concrete steps will follow the government's declarations.
RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report
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