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Poland/Ukraine: Participants At Economic Meeting Pledge Cooperation

By Jan de Weydenthal and Bogdan Turek

Prague, 25 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Presidents of Poland and Ukraine yesterday appealed to international institutions to help Kyiv to introduce economic reforms.

Poland's Aleksander Kwasniewski called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to help in reforming Ukraine's economy. "There will be no reform without financial help," Kwasniewski said.

Ukraine's Leonid Kuchma emphasized that "Ukraine is unable to cope alone with the large number of problems it faces."

Both presidents spoke at the conclusion of a two-day gathering of more than 400 officials and businessmen from the two countries held in the Polish southeastern city of Rzeszow. The meeting was also attended by Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.

The gathering discussed ways to boost Polish-Ukrainian trade and investments. The bilateral trade turnover has increased fivefold since 1992, reaching about $1.6 billion worth last year. Both sides say that faster growth is needed.

During the gathering, Poland pledged to grant Ukraine a credit line of about $22 million. Kwasniewski urged Polish businessmen to invest there, but the Poles complained that lack of business information, high duties and bureaucratic problems hamper expansion of trade relations.

Kuchma said that changes in the Ukrainian economy are in the offing and appealed for sustained and greater involvement.

Polish Economy minister Janusz Steinhoff told the gathering that Poland was eager to see construction of an oil pipeline, the Baku-Supsa through Odessa to Poland. stressing that it would allow greater diversity of supply which is now mainly reliant on Russia.

But the Polish officials emphasized that major economic changes in Ukraine could take place only with Western help.

Kwasniewski, in particular, refuted the arguments that Ukraine should implement reforms before any substantial Western help is offered. He said that such help is need to introduce changes. Ukraine has a poor record on reform, caused by major operational and institutional weaknesses. But its problems also include corruption, bureaucratic inertia and political instability, with opponents of reforms prominent in numerous state bodies.

The gathering in Rzeszow was designed to reinforce the Ukrainian economic reformers by providing them with at least a measure of support.

Poland has assumed for some years now a role of an advocate for Ukraine, trying to bind it to Western institutions. Poland is expecting to join NATO next year and the EU in the years to come.

Ukraine has expressed concern that Poland's entry into those organizations could negatively affect bilateral relations. But Kwasniewski was quick to assure the Rzeszow gathering that there will be "no new division of Europe. We want to keep our borders open," said Kwasniewski though he also emphasized that Poland will make every effort to "stop organized crime and smuggling." Some Western politicians have recently expressed fears that international criminals and drug dealers could use Poland as an entry point into the West after Poland joins the EU.

Kwasniewski told the gathering that efforts to streamline cooperation between Poland and Ukraine should not be regarded as directed against anyone, but, instead, should be seen as conducive to greater stability in the region.

The presence of Lithuania's Adamkus at the gathering only reinforced this view, providing a testimony to growing efforts to expand friendly regional cooperation between various states. Adamkus told the Ukrainians and Poles that Lithuanian businessmen will fully participate in future gatherings of this sort.