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Europe

Yushchenko to Make High-profile Visit to Germany

Ukraine's President Yushchenko visits Germany next week for talks with Schröder and a speech in parliament. The visit comes at a sensitive time when Ukraine is at the center of an illegal immigration scandal in Germany.

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Schröder, left, and Yushchenko have met before in Davos

It is Yushchenko's first official visit to Germany since the "Orange Revolution" which forced out the pro-Russian regime and carried the reformist liberal to power in the former Soviet republic.

US-Präsident George W. Bush mit dem ukrainischen Präsident Viktor Juschtschenko, NATO-Treffen in Brüssel

U.S. President George W. Bush, right, meets Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko at the NATO meeting in Brussels in February.

Yushchenko begins his visit on Tuesday and will meet Chancellor Gerhard Schröder the following day when he will also be granted the rare honor of addressing the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, following in the footsteps of world leaders such as US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

German business daily Handelsblatt reported on Thursday that former defense minister Volker Rühe from the German opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had expressed reservations about a leader making a speech to the parliament so soon after taking office.

But the government opted to give Yushchenko a firm boost as a statesman with the offer, setting the tone for strong bilateral ties in the future. Yushchenko's discussions with Schröder will focus on German-Ukrainian relations and Ukraine's ties with Russia, the European Union and the NATO military alliance, a German government spokesman said.

Ukraine a test for Schröder-Putin relations

Schröder invited Yushchenko to Germany immediately after his victory in the re-run presidential election in late December and urged the new leader to steer the country on a "course towards democracy and a market economy under the rule of law".

Gerhard Schröder und Wladirmir Putin in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder during their walk in the Bocharov Ruchei presidential residence in Sochi at the Black Sea shore in Aug. 2004.

The furor over the first Ukrainian presidential election, which gave victory to the pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovich but was marred by widespread reports of regularities, was a severe test for Schröder's close relationship with Putin. Schröder telephoned Putin twice during the crisis to encourage him to support a re-run of the poll. Putin had openly backed Yanukovich in the first election.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the re-run Ukrainian election "was a central principle of the new Europe and the end of thinking in blocs". "The fallout from it will be widespread," he said in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper on Saturday.

Shadow on Kiev-Berlin ties

Yushchenko's visit has added significance because Ukraine is currently at the centre of a political scandal over illegal immigration in Germany.

Bundesaussenminister Joschka Fischer spricht am Samstag, 26. Feb. 2005, in Koeln auf der Landesdeligiertenkonferenz der nordrhein-westfaelischen Gruenen ueber die Visa-Affaere#

Joschka Fischer is under increasing pressure for his role in the visa affair.

Fischer is under pressure to explain claims from the opposition that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from the former Soviet bloc -- especially Ukraine -- were able to enter Germany between 2000 and 2003 after tourist visa criteria were relaxed.

The opposition CDU says the revised system was exploited by organized crime groups and encouraged prostitution. Fischer has admitted to making mistakes in the handling of the visa issue, but has ruled out resigning.

On Friday, Yushchenko indicated that the ongoing visa affair in Germany could have a negative impact on relations between Kiev and Berlin. "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.

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