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On Aug 24 Ukraine is marking its Independence Day. On this occasion ArmInfo has interviewed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Armenia Ivan Kuhta.
by Ashot Safaryan
Armenia and Ukraine seem to have decided where they will move in their foreign policies. How do you see Ukrainian-Armenian relations in the light of new realities?
Judging from official reports, Armenia is going to sign an agreement to join the Eurasian Economic Union, while in Sept Ukraine’s Supreme Rada is planning to ratify an association agreement with the European Union. Either party has its own schedules and obligations to partners – the EU, on the one side, and the Eurasian Commission, on the other. But this will not affect our bilateral relations in any way. I have said this many times before and would like to say it again. Our dialogue is continued on all levels.
What relations the new authorities of Ukraine have with the local Armenian community, especially after the Crimean events and Armenia’s official position on them?
Ukraine and Armenia are centuries-old friends. Armenians first came to Ukraine in the times of Kievan Rus in XI and now live all over the country. In 2001 there were almost 100,000 Armenians in Ukraine. According to informal statistics, we have over 350,000 citizens of Armenian nationality.
Armenians are widely represented in our government. They have a number of NGOs (with almost 25 regional offices). Almost all of them are parts of the Union of Armenians of Ukraine, led by MP Vilen Shatvoryan. The Union’s mission is to support Ukraine-based Armenians and to preserve and promote Armenian culture in our country, which is also a priority for our authorities. The Armenian Apostolic Church has a diocese in Lviv. Two years ago the Kyiv authorities gave the local Armenian community a land plot so they could build the biggest Armenian church in Ukraine.
Ukraine takes care of the cultural heritage of the Armenian people. Quite recently we restore an Armenian church in Kamianets-Podilskyi, Khmelnitski region.
Armenian regional communities are actively supporting the soldiers involved in the anti-terrorist operation in Donbass. They are collecting and sending food and drugs to the east. On Aug 19 the Armenian community of Kyiv donated blood for the local military hospital. This proves that the Armenians living in Ukraine are true patriots and love their homeland and its people.
By the end of this year Ukraine is planning to sign a visa facilitation agreement with the EU. Once you do it, you will have to toughen your migration laws and perhaps even to impose a visa regime with the CIS and Customs Union states. Can we expect this to lower migration flow from Armenia and to reduce contacts between our citizens?
Visa liberalization is stipulated by our Association Agreement with the EU. In May the European Commission approved the fourth report on visa liberalization in Ukraine. Thus, we are not implementing the second phase of relevant action plan: we are harmonizing our laws to European requirements, introducing biometrics passports and so on.
As soon as we meet all the criteria, the European Commission will petition the European Parliament and the EU Council to consider visa free regime for Ukrainians having biometric passports. Expects believe that this may happen as early as 2015.
This will not however affect the travel regime between Ukraine and Armenia. And I am sure that the contacts between our citizens will grow.
The next meeting of the Ukrainian-Armenian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade-Economic Cooperation is scheduled for Oct 2014. When exactly the meeting will be held and what questions will be discussed?
Our Embassy is organizing this meeting. Today our priority is trade and economy.
The Commission has a toolkit for answering any questions arising in the process of our dialogue, while regular meetings are a good opportunity for us to control the implementation of out agreements.
Generally, our agenda concerns industry, energy and energy efficiency, agroindustry, transportation, environment protection, urban development, science and technologies as well as ways to develop contacts among our regions, to support SMEs and to enlarge our contractual basis.
Will the Commission consider a new export-import regime between our countries now that you have already signed the association agreement and we are planning to shortly sign the customs agreement?
Yes, of course, this will be one of the key topics of the meeting. Our new realities imply certain risks for our trade. But the meetings our government officials and businessmen have had so far were quite optimistic, especially as we have a free trade agreement.
Ukraine continues to be our second biggest trade-economic partner in the post-Soviet area. In Jan-June 2014 our trade turnover made up $109.382mln. Do you expect a growth in this index this year? Or may the difference of our political orientation curb it?
In Jan-May 2014 our trade turnover made up $76.17mln, which was $4.42mln or 5.5% less than in Jan-May 2013.
In view of the current tendencies, it is hard to expect a growth in the second half of this year. But we are trying to encourage Ukrainian exporters to enlarge their supplies to the Armenian markets. In this light, we have grounds to expect a certain growth in food supplies from Ukraine.
What is your opinion concerning the current situation in the east of Ukraine and its possible settlement?
First of all, I would like to point out that Ukraine is an amicable state. We have always been ready for peaceful negotiations and now too regard them as the only way to settle the situation.
I am sure you remember that on June 20 President Poroshenko proposed a peaceful plan of 15 actions to settle the situation in the eastern region of Ukraine.
Ukraine, the EU and the Eurasian Three (Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) are planning to meet in Minsk on Aug 26 to discuss questions concerning Ukraine’s steps to meet with association agreement with the EU, solutions to the problems of energy security and ways to stabilize the situation in Donbass.
The situation in that region is very complicated. It cannot be different considering the war imposed on us. The infrastructure of this industrial region is being purposefully destroyed. The number of victims and refugees is growing.
Our army is gradually reducing the territory controlled by fighters. Almost each they are liberating several settlements bringing them back to normal life. In liberated areas we are reopening public offices, enterprises and schools, many of which were mined by terrorists. The fighters are using various vicious methods. They are using civilians are human shield, bombarding populated areas and then saying that it was the Ukrainian army, cooperating with corrupt mass media. This is sobering many of the citizens who initially believe their propaganda. And now they are repenting and joining the Ukrainian army.
How are the things with Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko?
This case has received wide response all over the world. Ukraine has repeatedly asked Russia to set her free and to send her back home. But, unfortunately, our neighbor has shown little understanding in such issues of late.
We will do our best to bring Savchenko back. Our Embassy is grateful to the Armenian society and all those concerned about the fate of Nadezhda Savchenko for their understanding and support.
On Aug 24 Ukraine is marking its Independence Day. What would you like to say on this occasion?
23 years of independence is a historic moment for Ukraine. I would like to use this occasion to congratulate all Ukrainian citizens temporarily or permanently living in Armenia on this holiday and to wish all of us peace and prosperity!
Thank you, Your Excellency.