Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko arrives in the U.S. Monday to participate in the 63rd session of the U.N. General Assembly. This is a partial transcript of an interview with reporter Natalia A. Feduschak conducted prior to his departure:
Question: After Russia’s invasion of Georgia, people in Ukraine and abroad are worried that the same fate awaits Ukraine. How dangerous is it for Ukraine that the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based in Crimea?
Answer: This is not a question that relates just to Georgia; it is a question that relates to all of us. So it’s very important that leaders of the world, including the European Union, [react] adequately to that situation. I don’t believe that kind of danger exists for Ukraine, because Ukraine is not Georgia. The answer is only one joining a collective system of defense. The integrity of Ukraine can’t be a subject of discussion from any side. When we speak of the Georgian conflict in the context of the Russian fleet, there is a concern that the Ukrainian territory on which it is based was used in active military actions in a third country.
Q: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said recently that no meeting between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia could take place until all the questions of the Black Sea Fleet are decided.
A: No, that’s not so. We have many agreements that are ready to be signed during the meetings. We need to have a dialogue. The Black Sea Fleet should not be a negative in our relationship with the Russian Federation.
Q: Should the Russian fleet leave Crimea in 2017?
A: I have already spoken of this. We come from the point of view that for us, the time frame for the stationing of the Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory finds itself within the context of the vision of Ukrainian security. We see it in our integration into the European, Euro-Atlantic system of defense. That’s the direction Eastern Europe went. In other words, every sovereign country has the right to its sovereign choice. We need to put the question of the stationing of the Black Sea Fleet within the framework of 2017.
(Editor’s note: Russia’s lease to use the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol expires in 2017.)
Q: Is Ukraine’s membership in NATO possible right now?
A: Membership in the alliance [after an invitation is made] will be accepted in the most democratic way. We will do it through a democratic mechanism. But today, when we aren’t talking about NATO membership, we’re talking about a partnership agreement, that we want to have tighter cooperation.
For us to move forward, we need to get a signal from the alliance itself that we are respected, that we are valued. For this answer to be given qualitatively, we need status relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. With every day I am more convinced in this position that this is the only way to maintain the sovereignty of Ukraine. If we talk about a wide, historic perspective, this is the only way once and for all to put a period on [the question of] our territorial integrity.
Q: Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin said recently that if Georgia were a member of NATO, then the U.S. would have to go to war to defend it.
A: If we go by lessons and importance, then I think the first lesson that needs to be learned is not only in the relationship between Russia and Georgia, but within the framework of the region. And this conclusion is that the Black Sea region today is not balanced, it doesn’t have a security balance. This is a problem not only of Georgia. I am convinced this is a problem not only of our region. This is a problem of the European continent, and in a wider sense, even a world problem. This is key for what lessens can be drawn from what happened in the Caucasus conflict.
Q: Is membership in NATO and the European Union more important for Ukraine now than before?
A: Without question, more important. This was demonstrated by society’s reaction to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It clearly demonstrated that more than half of the people said that after 2017, this fleet shouldn’t remain on Ukrainian territory.
Today, when in the world we have such actions [as Georgia], particularly not far from Ukraine, then it creates alarm, and it shows what kind of dangers exist in the region from a security standpoint.
Q: Do the Europeans understand these problems? Do they look at Ukraine correctly when they discuss the process of integration into EU, or are they slowing the process down? What are the Europeans afraid of?
A: You see Europe divided into various camps on any question, beginning with energy politics, trade policy, security. This influence is very large and, unfortunately, those forces pull it in various directions. To form a united voice on the Euro-Atlantic [relationship] … is not so easy.
To talk about easy entrance into the European Union, you can forget it. It’s a complex discussion, it’s colossal work, a colossal effort. For Ukraine’s progress, what is needed is what we call European values. This is not a gift from someone to Ukraine. This is Ukraine’s attempt to have equal rules of the game.
Several weeks ago, we signed an agreement for a united energy system of Ukraine and the European Union. Now we’re taking about creating a common airspace. This is integration. When we speak of the Odessa-Brody [pipeline] and the European Union, this is the first pipeline that gives Europe the answer of how to get Caspian oil onto the territory of Eastern and Central Europe. This is integration.