Having worked for the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1992, the year after independence from Soviet rule, Ivan Kuleba has seen Ukraine developing through its most crucial stages. Following last December’s Orange Revolution, democracy and rule of law are being established. So does this mean that Europe will soon be welcoming another member state?
How would you evaluate the possible EU membership of Ukraine and in what time frame?
Membership of the Euro-Atlantic structures is the main priority for us. We have already asked the EU for associated membership status. Nonetheless, as the EU has recently enlarged, we do understand that further enlargement is rather difficult. We also understand that EU norms have to be implemented into our system. Therefore, we are trying to reach the status of a country “with a market economy”. In this context, we have asked the EU to support Ukrainian membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If we succeed in completing the required political and economic reforms, there are unofficial suggestions from the EU member states that we could start negotiations in 2010–2012.
Have there been any concrete moves towards Ukraine-EU rapprochement?
Ukraine signed an Action Plan with the EU at the beginning of this year that is valid for three years. The Action Plan implies Ukrainian convergence with EU law, compliance with human rights, creation of a market economy and stable development. It also envisions the beginning of dialogue about the creation of a free trade area between Ukraine and the EU, but only after Ukrainian admission to the WTO. Last but not least, the Action Plan deals with the simplification of visa applications between Ukraine and EU member states.
What are the prospects of the EU ending visa restrictions for Ukraine?
Unfortunately, EU member states will preserve visa restrictions according to their needs in the future. The scheme is as follows: EU citizens can visit Ukraine without a visa; Ukrainian citizens will need a visa for the EU, but it will be free. This is already the case with Hungary, Poland and Latvia, and there is a simplified model with Slovakia and other countries. We would also like to introduce the scheme in the Czech Republic where currently only 66, 000 of the 200,000 Ukrainian citizens living there have a residence permit. That does not mean they emigrated illegally. Nonetheless, the majority of Ukrainian citizens do not submit applications for visa extensions. We would like to reach an agreement about this issue with the Czech government soon.
How will closer ties with the EU affect Ukraine’s relations with its traditional partners, Russia and Belarus?
Russia is both our historical and eternal neighbour and we have many things in common. It is impossible to “split”. We have created excellent economic relations. Our mutual interest is to bring associated economic advantages closer to our citizens. After the Ukrainian presidential elections, the first official visit of our president was to Russia. This March there was a reciprocal visit by the Russian president Putin to Ukraine. During this visit, both presidents stated that there are no issues in Ukrainian–Russian relations that could not be resolved. Belarus is also a very important partner. Traditionally, we have had very beneficial economic and political relations. At the same time, we believe that real friends can openly talk about existing problems as well as democratic reforms.
What countries have supported Ukraine’s evolution the most?
We have had considerable support from all EU member states and the United States as well. Among the European ones I should mention Germany, which has made an agreement to provide us with 2 billion euros aimed at the reconstruction of our infrastructure. Regarding Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, these are the countries that we perceive as the imaginary “engine” forcing us back towards Europe.
This interview was first published in Prague Club Magazine.