After months of dispute surrounding his presidential election, the opposition candidate and reform-minded Viktor Yushchenko was finally sworn in as the third president in post-Soviet Ukraine. During the ceremony on Sunday, the 50-year-old hero of the orange revolution vowed to defend the sovereignty and independence of his country and to uphold the values of his party, the constitution and the Ukrainian people.
“This is a victory for freedom over tyranny,” Yushchenko proclaimed to tens of thousands of his protestors gathered in the main square of Kiev.
But the pro-western leader will have little time to celebrate what surely is a tremendous victory for democracy in a state that just recently shed the yoke of Soviet influence. Starting Monday, Yushchenko sets out on a tour of Europe to prove his sincerity in cooperating closely with the West.
Opening new doors
In Brussels, Ukraine’s future EU minister is already hard at work paving the way for his country’s most ambitious goal: entry in the 25-member European Union.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Oleg Ribatschuk said he’d like to see Ukrainian accession as soon as possible, but he conceded that Brussels’ official line only allows for a close partnership in the near future.
Officially, the EU has said it is not negotiating accession, only a close partnership as part of the bloc’s neighborhood policy. But even after meetings with the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana and EU Foreign Relations Commission Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Ribatschuk remains convinced that Brussels will open its doors fully to Kiev in the next 10 years, even before it lets in Turkey.
“The door is not closed,” he said. “What we need to do in Ukraine is impress the EU with our rapid tempo in introducing and implementing reforms. If we develop quickly enough, the EU will have to respond positively – I’m absolutely convinced.”
Increase reform tempo
Ukraine’s reform efforts have not gone unnoticed in the EU, Ribatschuk said.
Just a week ago, the EU Parliament voted in favor of offering Kiev a European perspective. Solana and Ferrero-Waldner have also written a letter to Yushchenko outlining an “EU Action Plan” for partnership. The letter is a first step in the right direction, according to Ribatschuk who sees it as proof of Brussels’ interest in strengthening ties with Kiev.
In addition to the EU, Ukraine is also striving to enter the NATO. There are just two options, said Ribatschuk: “either we align ourselves with the West or with Russia.” Ukraine and Viktor Yushchenko have clearly decided in favor of Europe. That does not mean Kiev aims to alienate itself from Russia, nor does Russian President Vladimir Putin have cause for alarm concerning Ukraine’s new political course.
Refocusing foreign policy
Russia is still the new Ukrainian president’s first official stop on his foreign tour. In doing so, Yushchenko will stress the fact that he does not wish to break away entirely from Russia, a country which for years exerted influence on the smaller neighboring country.
“The main reason for the visit with Putin is not to sign any contracts or to drink too many glasses of vodka in the name of friendship. Rather, the point is to revive the close ties,” Ribatschuk said.
At the moment though, Russia is not at the forefront of Ukraine’s foreign policy. It is more important that the new Ukrainian government focus its efforts on the EU and NATO and convince the population of the necessity of such an endeavor, the future EU minister said. The majority of Ukrainians have no idea what is in store for them.