- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ukraine in spotlight

The new ambassador from Ukraine is becoming a frequent visitor to the White House, where yesterday he was present as President Bush signed a landmark trade bill lifting Cold War sanctions on the former Soviet republic.

Ambassador Oleh Shamshur presented his diplomatic credentials to Mr. Bush on March 13 and delivered a message from President Viktor Yushchenko, who, he said, views the United States as “a global leader and Ukraine’s ally in advancing democracy” in Eastern Europe. He met Mr. Bush on March 10 during the visit of Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk.

“Welcome, Mr. Ambassador,” Mr. Bush said. “This is the third time we’ve been together in the last 30 days. I’m better for it.”

Mr. Bush called the bill to normalize trade relations with Ukraine one that will “create new opportunities for both of our countries.”

“The bill I sign today marks the beginning of a new era in our history with Ukraine,” he said. “During the Cold War, Congress passed the Jackson-Vanik amendment as a response to widespread communist deprivation of human rights. … The Cold War is over, and a free Ukraine is a friend to America and an inspiration to those who love liberty.”

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Shamshur addressed an audience at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, where he discussed the political turmoil in which Ukraine finds itself as it prepares for Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

He said the past year “should not be seen as a year lost” but, rather, a “year to learn to govern.” Mr. Shamshur admitted that the government had made some mistakes that were avoidable, “but others were not.”

Mr. Shamshur recounted Mr. Yushchenko’s economic reforms that had to deal with a culture of cooperation he inherited from the authoritarian reign of Leonid Kuchma. Mr. Yushchenko has worked hard to deal with the “corrupt schemes of the shadow economy,” he said, referring to Ukraine’s black market.

Mr. Yushchenko’s programs have held the annual inflation to 10.3 percent. During the mid 1990s, Ukraine was crushed under hyperinflationary rates, with monthly price increases of more than 50 percent.

Mr. Shamshur also said that Ukraine was shocked by the energy showdown with Russia, its primary supplier of oil and natural gas, when Moscow threatened to cut off fuel in the winter. Ukraine relies on foreign suppliers for up to 90 percent of its energy needs. The ambassador said his government is determined to develop “safe nuclear energy” and promote energy conservation.

Despite Mr. Yushchenko’s reforms, his party is predicted to lose power when voters elect the new 450-seat legislature from among 45 political parties. Ironically, Viktor Yanukovich, the man he defeated after massive pro-democracy rallies in 2004, is likely to regain power, according to public opinion polls.

When he presented his credentials to Mr. Bush, the ambassador thanked Americans for their support for Ukrainian democracy.

“Ukraine has given a new impetus to the advancement of the cause of democracy in the world, and it is America where Ukraine seeks and finds real support,” he said.

Romanian visit

The Romanian foreign minister next week will make his first trip to Washington since he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a major defense agreement in December.

Foreign Minister Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, who arrives Monday for a two-day visit, will meet with Miss Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

“Romania is the first new NATO member to sign an agreement with the United States regarding the establishment of post-Cold War U.S. military facilities, with strong relevance in the war against terror,” Romanian Ambassador Sorin Ducaru said yesterday.

He said the visit will concentrate on details of the agreement, “broader cooperation” against terrorism, efforts to fight human trafficking and next year’s NATO summit.

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