Published in the Leipziger Volkszeitung (1 February 2011)
Twenty years of Ukrainian independence: where does the country stand today, compared with its Central and Eastern European neighbours?
In recent years Ukraine has proved to be a trailblazer in the region – in terms of closer ties with the European Union, for one thing. If this process is to continue, however, more needs to be done to meet rule of law standards and uphold basic democratic norms. The local elections in October were certainly no help in that respect. According to European observers, they were marred by a number of irregularities. Yet when we consider how other transition countries in Eastern Europe are doing, we still see Ukraine in the vanguard of progress.
What makes you so sure, given recent trends that seem to point more in the direction of internal stagnation?
Clearly setbacks for democracy will hold up progress on Ukraine’s modernization agenda as well as its path towards the EU. The Orange Revolution, however, established a real democratic tradition. The spirit of freedom has very deep roots, I believe, in Ukraine’s civil society.
From the European point of view, is Ukraine under its pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych still a candidate for accession to the EU ?
There’s nothing mutually exclusive about good EU-Ukraine cooperation and good EU-Russian cooperation. We want to see good relations between Ukraine and Russia, too, since that should benefit stability throughout the region. What we expect from Ukraine, however, is a clear commitment to the EU’s values, which must also be translated into practice. The first reforms introduced by President Yanukovych – in the pensions and social sector, for example – reveal a trend towards greater stability. An association agreement with the EU could be signed before the end of the year.
Is there a risk of yet another dispute over gas, which would also have repercussions on Germany?
No, I don’t think so. After the last dispute, of course, Germany developed an energy mix policy designed to prevent us becoming too dependent on just one supplier country.
In our relations with Kyiv, how far should we take Russian sensibilities into account?
As a matter of principle, German foreign policy seeks dialogue, not confrontation. That goes also for the Germany-Ukraine-Russia relationship.
Is dialogue our guiding principle also when it comes to Ukraine joining NATO? That’s something to which we know Russia is vehemently opposed.
At present Kyiv does not aspire to join NATO. So our dialogue is concerned with how, even without a direct accession perspective, practical cooperation with Ukraine can be further developed in the field of security policy as well.
The one-time leaders of the Orange Revolution have now completely fallen out.The news that Vitali Klitschko, the boxer, plans to run for president has created quite a stir.Do you think a former sportsman has what it takes to be a political leader?
Why not? Most people in Germany know him as a sportsman, yet at home his political talent is now well recognized. He’s definitely seen as a serious politician. In Ukraine it’s not so much party affiliation but personality that counts. So his chances are pretty good, I’d say.
Interviewer: Kostas Kipuros