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Germany

Berlin, Warsaw to Boost Ukrainian Democracy

Germany and Poland plan to step up efforts to strengthen Ukraine's fledgling democracy. But there's little doubt that Kiev's ties with Berlin have been strained by the ongoing illegal immigration scandal in Germany.

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Fischer, left, and his Polish counterpart agreed to bolster Kiev

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and his Polish counterpart Adam Rotfeld will make a joint trip to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on March 21 to send a signal of support to Ukraine just months after the country ushered in democracy following popular protests.

Fischer schüttelt Hände in Warschau

Teresa Lipowicz, left, co-chairwoman of the Polish-German team for regional cooperation, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, center, and Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld, right, jointly shake hands after their meeting in Warsaw, Poland.

At a press conference during Fischer's one-day trip to Warsaw on Friday, the two ministers said that they were going to Kiev to let the Ukrainians know they wouldn't be left alone and that they intended to help Ukraine in building democracy.

"We are afraid that too high expectations could cause disappointments. It is important that we should let Ukraine know that it won't be left to its own devices," Rotfeld said. Poland and Germany would continue to "consider the best means to support the changes begun by the Orange Revolution," Rotfeld added.

Ukraine's neighbor Poland played a key role mediating in the presidential crisis in the former Soviet constituent republic late last year that ended with Yushchenko confirmed as head of state at the head of his "orange revolution", a popular democratizing movement.

Training and student exchange

German Foreign Minister Fischer thanked Poland for its commitment in resolving the Ukrainian political crisis. "We are very interested in progress in the country's democratic and economic development," said Fischer.

Poland has also been an advocate of quickly opening EU membership talks with Ukraine. The EU has intensified cooperation with Kiev, but has not offered to open accession talks.

Wahlen in der Ukraine Viktor Juschtschenko Anhänger

Students from throughout Ukraine rally in support of Viktor Yushchenko

As part of efforts to strengthen the democratic process in Ukraine, Fischer and Rotfeld proposed a series of measures including providing training for officials in the Ukrainian government. "It's essential to train specialists in local government who are essential to the proper functioning of civil society," said Rotfeld.

The two countries also plan to increase the number of stipends available in their countries for Ukrainian students, and creating a "European university" on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Visa scandal casts shadow on ties

But, despite Germany's backing of democracy in Ukraine, relations between Berlin and Kiev have suffered recently following revelations of a massive illegal immigrant scandal in the German foreign ministry.

Anstehen nach Visa am Konsulat in Kiew

People wait in front of the German embassy in Kiev for a visa.

Joschka Fischer stands accused of turning a blind eye to massive visa abuse between 2000 and 2002, particularly at the German embassy in Kiev, which resulted in an unusually high flood of foreign nationals, many of them Ukrainians, entering Germany. In recent weeks, anecdotal evidence of human traffickers and prostitutes who benefited from the lax rules has dominated the German media and put pressure on Fischer for his role in the affair.

On Friday, recently elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko who is scheduled to visit Germany next week and give a speech in parliament, admitted that ties between Kiev and Berlin would be affected adversely by the visa scandal.

Wahlen in der Ukraine Viktor Juschtschenko

Viktor Yushenko

"Naturally, a certain shadow will be cast on our relations," Yushchenko told Financial Times Deutschland. He added that he feared the scandal would also create a false image in Germany of Ukrainians. "I wish the Germans would have a normal relationship to Ukrainians and not see each one as an illegal laborer," he said.

At the same time Yushchenko said he hoped that both the EU and Germany would refrain from implementing a restrictive visa policy towards his country. "We'd be happy if the EU as well as Germany could find a human form of visa policies towards Ukraine," he said, adding he intended to take up the matter with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder during his visit next week.

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