At the start of his first official visit to Germany since taking office as Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko emphasized in a DW interview that he sees his country's future in the European Union.
Yushchenko hopes Germany will support Kiev's EU aspirations
In Berlin, pro-western Ukrainian president Yushchenko reiterated his view that it was the right course for his country to seek closer cooperation with the European Union with the aim of eventually joining the 25-member bloc.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle correspondents, he said Ukraine's European ambitions should not be interpreted as being directed against Russia, which remained an important economic partner. But following the so-called orange revolution, Yushchenko wanted to live up to his promises and turn Ukraine into a more prosperous and democratic nation, he said. The European Union could play a pivotal role in this, he added.
"I have no problem talking about Ukraine's EU ambitions," he said. "We're not following a fashion. Nor are we engaging in political adventurism. But we clearly say that we want to go where economic and social standards are highest and democracy is not a hollow phrase. Our people fully understand that we've got a long way ahead of us to achieve such standards at home, but we're poised to get going."
Return to a "normal relationship"
Under fire: Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Yushchenko also touched on the so-called "visa affair" surrounding German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. Fischer stands accused of having aided the influx into Germany of illegal workers and prostitutes from Ukraine and elsewhere in eastern Europe through extremely lax visa regulations at German embassies between 1999 and 2001. Yushchenko said his country played no part in the affair, but had suffered from being put in a bad light abroad.
"I believe that the visa affair will continue to have a negative psychological effect on our bilateral relations," he said. "The Ukrainian people as a whole don't want to be branded as criminals just because there were some who took advantage of the lax visa regulations in a dubious way."
He said Ukraine would help Germany to rectify the problem however it could, but that it was time to return to a "normal relationship."
"We cannot afford to let the visa affair have an impact on our scientific, cultural and student exchange programs," he said. "The same goes for journalists who should not require a standard visa to go to Germany or Ukraine."
A rare honor
Yushchenko will address the Bundestag Wednesday
On Wednesday, Yushchenko is set to meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for political talks. But the highlight of his visit will be his much-awaited address to the German parliament on the same day.
Following a lengthy, controversial debate among mainstream German parliamentarians, the go-ahead for Yushchenko to speak before the Bundestag was given only a few days ago. It's meant to be a signal that Germany stands behind the president's reform endeavors.
Addressing the Bundestag is a rare honor for foreign statesmen. Yushchenko will follow in the footsteps of world leaders such as US President George W. Bush and more recently Russian President Vladimir Putin.