Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December 4th, 2009

Spotlight on Ukraine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 4th December, 2009

The European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, had some frank words for his host, President Victor Yushchenko, in Kiev today at an EU-Ukraine Summit that was dominated by fears over possible new disruption to European gas supplies via Ukraine, the former Soviet Republic’s economic decline and its ongoing political turmoil. As Mr Barroso declared starkly, ‘it often seems to us that commitments to reform are only partly implemented and words are not always accompanied by action. Reforms are the only way to establish stability[and] closer ties to the EU.’ Mr Yushchenko is determined to pursue the eventual goals of Ukraine’s membership of both the European Union and NATO, to the concern of the largely ethnic Russian inhabitants of the Crimea, and it is by no means certain that he will win presidential elections next month against his bitter rival, the Prime Minister, Yulia Timoshenko, or his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovich (and nearly a dozen other, lesser contenders).

While the Summit was on in Kiev, I was attending a seminar on Social and Economic Developments in Ukraine at the ING (Bank) headquarters in the City of London, organised by International Financial Services London (IFSL). As Chatham House rules were in force, I shall not reveal who said what, but suffice it to say that the main presentation was almost brutally honest about the economic problems that Ukraine has been going through over the past 18 months, though there have been recent signs of a recovery. Manufacturing ouput, in particular, has slumped, though agriculture (including agricultural exports) has done well, and there are some sectors attracting inward investment, including telecoms. Apparently, there are more phone subscribers than inhabitants in Ukraine, which shows that it is not only in the Arabian Gulf that people like to have two or more mobile phones.

The Ukrainians present stressed the importance for them of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United Kingdom, while several of the Brits highlighted their goodwill towards Ukraine. But it seems clear that concrete cooperation is largely on hold until the political situation is clarified. The first round of the presidential election is scheduled for 17 January, with a run-off (if necessary) on 7 February.

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