Yushchenko in Prague: Eastern Partnership no substitute for EU membership

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko began a two-day official visit to the Czech Republic. At a joint briefing with his Czech counterpart, Václav Klaus, at Prague Castle on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Yushchenko called for increased ties between Kiev and the EU, and insisted that this January’s gas crisis was not of his own doing.

Viktor Yushchenko and Václav Klaus (right), photo: CTKViktor Yushchenko and Václav Klaus (right), photo: CTK One of the Czech Republic’s priorities during its EU presidency, an Eastern Partnership between the bloc and six former Soviet states, was top of the agenda at Tuesday’s briefing. The partnership, which will include Ukraine as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, will mean stronger ties between the EU and the ex-Soviet states – making travel easier, increasing trade and bringing more EU development funds.

Speaking on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said that he welcomed any sort of dialogue between the EU and Kiev, but stressed that the Eastern Partnership was no substitute for full EU membership, which Ukraine is eager to obtain. Czech President Václav Klaus agreed, and added that he was looking forward to welcoming Mr Yushchenko back to Prague on May 7, when the Eastern Partnership scheme will be launched officially.

The recent gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine was also discussed at Prague Castle on Tuesday afternoon, though nothing new was said on the matter. President Viktor Yushchenko repeated that Ukraine simply did not receive Russian gas this January to distribute to the rest of Europe. Again, he insisted that the gas crisis was not Ukraine’s fault.

When asked whether Prague was considering revising its stance on visas for Ukrainian workers, President Václav Klaus said that, as an EU member state, the Czech Republic’s hands were tied. Mr Klaus did, however, say that the Czech Republic greatly valued its Ukrainian labour force; Ukrainians make up one of the biggest immigrant groups in this country. The Czech President added that trade relations between the two countries were in an extremely healthy state, with Czech exports to Ukraine rising by 10% over the past 10 years. Mr Yushchenko agreed that bilateral relations were in an excellent condition.