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EU/Ukraine: Kuchma Confirms Desire To Integrate Into Europe

At today's summit in Crimea between the European Union and Ukraine, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma confirmed his country's desire to integrate into Europe and pledged his government to economic reforms and to establish the rule of law. The EU praised Ukraine's economic progress but said more needs to be done to enshrine civic rights.

Prague, 11 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma reiterated his country's ambition to integrate closely with Western Europe at today's summit meeting between the European Union and Ukraine.

The summit was held at the Livadia Palace in Yalta as part of the PCA, or Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, that Ukraine signed with the EU in 1994 and which entered into force in 1998.

The summit was intended to review Ukraine's record in fulfilling its obligations toward the EU. Those include measures to bring Ukrainian regulations governing trade in line with those of the EU and to do the same with Ukrainian civic and human rights standards.

Before the summit began, the EU let it be known that it thought Ukraine is making some progress in the economic sphere but is not living up to its promises to press ahead with widespread economic reforms, crack down on rampant corruption, and guarantee conditions for a free and open press.

The EU summit was the first major international conference to be held in Ukraine since a series of scandals severely damaged the country's international standing. These included accusations that circles close to President Leonid Kuchma were involved in the murder last September of an anti-government journalist. Since then, another journalist has been murdered. The president and many of his close associates have also been accused of involvement in massive corruption.

EU spokesman Rejo Kempinen said that Ukraine had to match its rhetoric about those issues with concrete actions to prove that it intended to live up to the PCA obligations it had signed up to.

"Of these issues, I would say that politically for us the most important thing is that we wish to deliver across a strong message to the leadership of Ukraine that if they are serious about the country's European choice and about putting the recent scandals behind them, they must demonstrate their readiness to do so."

Today, the leader of the EU delegation, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, said the Union considers Ukraine a key player in securing regional stability. He urged the government to proceed with economic, political and administrative reforms, fight corruption and create more transparent economic structures to attract foreign investors.

Verhofstadt leads the delegation because Belgium currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. With him are the EU chief of foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, EU Commission President Romano Prodi, and Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.

Kuchma said cooperation in the European policy field took a more clear outline in security and defense, in particular along the lines of military and civil forces and EU's rapid reaction forces.

Kuchma opened the summit and said he was certain that "Ukraine-EU relations will gain even more momentum" and that they already had improved over a year of "regular contacts, which became a good tradition."

Speaking from the Livadia Palace, the former Russian tsars' residence in Yalta, perched over the Black Sea, Kuchma said: "The political dialogue between Ukraine and the EU is characterized by a special openness and constructive character."

He confirmed Ukraine's resolve to integrate into Europe, and pledged that the government would enact reforms to establish the rule of law and raise the standard of living. Kuchma said that Ukraine's membership of the PCA helped in the construction of a civic society based on the rule of law.

Kuchma said Ukraine and the EU have come to appreciably closer positions on preparation of a protocol on mutual tariff concessions in the context of Ukraine's joining the World Trade Organization.

EU Commission President Romano Prodi praised Ukraine's recent economic improvement and Ukraine-EU ties in general. He said he hopes Ukraine and the EU will work together on economic and political reforms.

He said that Ukrainian authorities should demonstrate their intention to abide by democratic standards by the conduct of parliamentary elections scheduled for next year. Kempinen described the EU view of Ukraine today.

"Politically speaking, the situation in the country remains volatile, and a lot of criticism can be voiced when talking about recent developments and individual things that have happened in the country. Economically, they have done well, but that is mainly due to the spillover from the strengthening of the Russian economy. As far as the investment climate is concerned, it remains bad. We do think that there are still oligarchic structures that prevail and gross domestic product per capita is still very low."

Over the last year, many observers believe Kuchma has tilted toward Russia in reaction to the criticism that has been heaped upon him by Western bodies and leaders. One of those who shares this belief is Volodymyr Polokhalo, the editor of the independent Ukrainian magazine "Political Thought." He believes Kuchma is committed to closer relations with Russia at the expense of those with the EU.

Polokhalo also believes the Ukrainian president and government are, to a great extent, in the thrall of Russia, which, he says, is not interested in Ukraine drawing closer to the EU.

"Russia today foremostly seeks to dominate the post-Soviet region and with an Asian tilt. That means that Ukraine ceases to be independent in its approach to the European Union. It means that not only integration to Europe has taken on a rhetorical character but that, in reality, it's not even possible for Ukraine to move toward Europe."

Although Ukrainian leaders have been invited to an EU summit early next year, the EU has made it clear that its patience will not last for ever as it waits for Ukraine to show a genuine commitment to the goals under the EU's Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.