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Yushchenko courts the Germans

    17 January 2021 Sunday

    He asks for support on bid to join the EU.
    President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine appealed Wednesday to Germany for support in trying to join the European Union while reassuring Berlin that his country wanted good relations with its eastern neighbor, Russia.
    Yuschenko's balancing act, made during a speech to the German Bundestag, or Parliament, and often interrupted by applause, ended an official two-day visit to Berlin, his first trip there since being sworn in as president in January.

    "My first big foreign trip is to Germany, the motor of European integration," said Yushchenko during his short speech read from an orange folder, the color used by the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who in December swept Yushchenko into power.

    "Ukraine also wants good relations with Russia, which is an important partner for us," Yushchenko added.

    Although Yushchenko received a warm reception and a standing ovation, he had to work hard during his visit to repair the damage to Ukraine's image inside Germany caused by a visa scandal for which Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany recently accepted responsibility.

    Between 2000 and 2002, a few hundred thousand Ukrainians were given visas to enter Germany without sufficient scrutiny, according to investigators. It has since been claimed that mafia rings and drug traffickers exploited the more liberal visa regime to enter Germany. As more details of the investigations were released, many newspapers gave the impression that all Ukrainians who received a visa were either drug dealers or prostitutes.

    Yushchenko did not refer directly to Fischer in his speech but instead asked for a visa-free regime for business people, students, artists and young people seeking contact with EU countries. He received brief applause.

    The largest part of Yushchenko's speech, however, was devoted to moving closer to Europe, with Germany's help, as well as introducing economic and political reforms to underpin the rule of law.

    He struck a chord when he said Ukraine would be a stable and secure country, especially for the transportation of energy. It was a message welcomed by parliamentary deputies, not least because nearly 80 percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe use Ukraine as a transit route.

    Also, Germany depends increasingly on Russian gas imports, so it requires water-tight guarantees for the security of supplies.

    "Yushchenko struck the right tone. It was a good speech," said Matthias Wissmann, European integration spokesman for the opposition, the conservative Christian Democrats. "Russia matters so much to Germany."

    When asked whether Yushchenko would succeed in preparing Ukraine for membership to the European Union, Wissmann was emphatic. "No, Ukraine can have a privileged partnership without full membership. The Christian Democrats wanted that for Turkey but we did not manage to get it."

    After holding talks with Yushchenko, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder said Germany "would be helpful in bringing Ukraine into the euro-Atlantic structures," without naming the NATO military alliance. He also said Germany would support its effort to become a market economy and join the World Trade Organization.

    Germany has close ties with Ukraine, now one of the European Union's external borders since May, when Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, all of which also border Ukraine, joined the European Union along with seven other countries.

    Those ties, however, are nowhere near as close as those between Germany and Russia.

    Trade between Russia and Germany in 2003 was valued at more than €25 billion, or $34 billion, while total trade between Ukraine and Germany was valued at €3.3 billion in the same period.

    Regardless of what government was in power in Germany, every chancellor has paid special attention to Russia, making it one of the country's foreign policy priorities, in contrast to the status of Ukraine.

    German industry, too, has worked hard to establish a foothold in Russia, while Schroder has forged close relations with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which explains Schroder's reactions to the "Orange Revolution," the movement last year that brought Yushchenko to power.

    During the demonstrations in December, Schroder called Putin twice to ask him to accept the changes taking place in Ukraine and a rerun of the election.

    Putin had already publicly endorsed Viktor Yanukovich as president and congratulated him on his victory, even as the Yushchenko opposition, backed by the United States and later by the European Union, said the election had been rigged.

    Addressing the Bundestag, Yushchenko thanked Germany for "all the solidarity and support you gave us during the demonstrations."

    Even though Schroder said little publicly during the demonstrations, a German senior official said he used his personal ties with Putin to stave off any possibility of instability or a crackdown on the demonstrators by the security forces.

    "Heartfelt thanks," Yushchenko said.

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