Prague, 4 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - German Chancellor Helmut Kohl yesterday promised to support Kyiv's efforts to expand relations with the European Union (EU) and pledged German assistance in Ukraine's economic development.
Kohl was in Kyiv on a two-day visit, during which he met Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko to discuss politics and economy.
Speaking subsequently at Kyiv University, Kohl said that Germany "will back setting up special plan of actions for Ukraine in the European Union." He also said that the EU could start talks with Ukraine on establishing a free trade zone in about two years.
"Ukraine can be a bridge to the countries in the east and the south of our continent," Kohl said.
These promises came after representatives of the two countries had signed a series of economic agreements designed to facilitate bi-lateral economic exchanges.
Perhaps the most important was a deal involving two major Western companies -- Germany's Siemens and Swiss-Swedish Asea Brown Boveri -- and Ukraine's Energy Ministry setting up a 120-million German marks project to modernize a coal-fired energy plant at Zmiyevka near the city of Charkov. The project is designed to help Ukraine to develop energy sources alternative to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Two other agreements involve Germany's Daimler Benz. They concern the modernization of the airport at Odessa and the development of electric locomotives for the Ukrainian railways.
Furthermore, Germany pledged to provide an additional assistance of about 30 million German marks to Ukraine to develop a free market economy, particularly by setting up a special fund for small- and medium-size companies.
The two sides also signed a agreement on minority rights for Ukraine's ethnic Germans. Some 40,000 ethnic Germans live in Ukraine, some of whom have recently arrived from Russia and Kazakhstan under a special immigration program.
Kohl and Kuchma also discussed a return of German cultural treasures lost during World War II. But no agreement was reached on this issue, although Kuchma was reported to have promised to look into the matter.
Both sides declared themselves satisfied with their discussions. Germany is Ukraine's leading economic partner within the EU, and the second-largest investor after the United States. Ukraine is Germany's second-largest trading partner among the Commonwealth of Independent States, after Russia.
Bi-lateral trade reached about 2.500 million marks last year, and is growing. Kohl's visit was intended to speed up that growth.
Kohl is visiting Odessa today before flying back to Germany later in the day.
Kohl also travels to Moscow this week. And Ukraine's government press office has said Prime Minister Lazarenko has asked Kohl to help Ukraine by using his influence to help re-schedule Kyiv's debt to Russia.