Prepared remarks by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at an Atlantic Council event on September 23, 2010.

First of all let me thank the organizers – the Atlantic Council of the United States – for inviting me to this meeting, and to all of you for your interest in Ukraine.

I am confident that as time goes by this interest will only increase.

This is because, it won’t be an exaggeration to say, at present Ukraine is going through a unique stage of its development.

We are virtually building a new state – a state of the 21st century.
The model we had before – a primitive post-Soviet capitalism – has completely exhausted itself.

Enormous social division of the poor and the rich, the low level of living standards, unemployment and migration of labor to other countries, degradation of manufacturing – all this has undermined the trust of Ukrainians in their own state and led to new disappointments.

And at the same time all this created a demand for “smooth talk” politics abundant with easy and nice promises that nobody was going to keep in the first place.

Unfortunately, in recent years all Ukrainian politics have been primitive and scandalous where race for power was only a tool in a fight for financial resources, property and things like that. However, I am here not to criticize my predecessors, but to tell you what we are going to do to improve the situation; which, as you know, has been considerably aggravated by the financial and economic crisis.

Virtually, we had no choice; default and collapse, or bringing things in order and launching reforms, which have been procrastinated during the years since independence.

The new political team that came to power in Ukraine is fully aware of its responsibility; it knows what, when and how to do things, it has necessary political will and the main point – it has the capabilities to forge ahead with transformations.

This is because – for the first time in the modern history of Ukraine – the President, the Government and the Parliament (to be exact the coalition majority that has been formed) are moving in the same strategic direction, not in the three different ones as was the case earlier.

We have very ambitious plans, but we start their realization from the baseline position.  First of all, we have to deal with crisis fallout in our economy and avert further sizing of people’s living standards. One should not forget that in Ukraine, they are much lower than in Europe or the United States.

Liberalization of our economy, healthy fiscal conservatism, and protection of the most vulnerable strata of our society were defined as the underpinning principles of our economic program.

I put forward tough, but accomplishable requirements to reduce licensing procedures by 90%, to cut the number and scope of activities of the controlling bodies to the fullest extent possible in order to substantially decrease the tax pressure. This should set free the creative energy of, first of all, small and medium businesses and facilitate creating new jobs.

This year, the State budget deficit will be reduced twofold to 5%.

We have presented a realistic program of reforms until 2014, and started priority national development projects.

This and other measures have already brought in first considerable results – we have not only stopped an unprecedented economic downslide in a time of peace, but set forward a steady economic development – more than 6% GDP growth in the first six months of this year.

We started to win the investors’ trust back – this year the Ukrainian stock market has made it to the top five of the fastest growing global emerging markets.

In this context, resuming Ukraine’s cooperation program with the IMF has played a distinctively important role.

Obviously, changes are not as easy and fast as one would like them to be.

We are aware that we have to face difficulties and new challenges.

But we will not turn off from the path of economic reforms. There should be no doubt about that.

The further strengthening of democracy is an integral part of the course towards modernization of the country.  Ukraine is and will remain an essential component of the single democratic space in Europe.  My position on this issue is clear – no national or cultural peculiarities and no political reasons can justify violations of human rights and freedoms.

I think you will be interested to know how I understand democracy.

Of all its various definitions the following is the closest to me:

Democracy means stable state institutions, broad civic freedoms and justice. A state in which these principles are being violated is doomed to have a corruption, chaos, lawlessness or authoritarianism.

On the other hand, I am sure that fundamental human rights have to be bound with duties, and freedoms tied with responsibility. The government has to act transparently, and be accountable to citizens that voted for it.

Independent media and active civil society are primary forces that have to facilitate it.  I have said it before and would like stress it again: the societal progress is not possible without free exchange of opinions, without an honest competition of ideas rather than “dirty tricks,” without free access to the mass media.

I will be honest with you, a lot has to be done yet in Ukraine for ensuring the real freedom of speech.

By the way, we have just made another important step forward in this direction.

National public discussion of the public television concept that I initiated has been completed. In the nearest future a bill paving the way for the principally different mass media – the ones which policy will be determined by the civil society – will be submitted to the Parliament for consideration.

Therefore, I categorically disagree with statements that claim freedom of speech is on decline in Ukraine.

As for separate turf wars in media sphere that have recently been widely discussed, I have to responsibly stress that the government has nothing to do with them.
They are clashing of business interests or disputes between the media management and its staff. 

As a Guarantor of the Constitution and as a person who came to power as a result of a free, fair and transparent election, let me assure you – the freedom of speech in Ukraine will only be expanding. There is no alternative to this process.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to use this opportunity to elaborate on Ukraine’s foreign and security policy.

As you know, a diplomat will think twice before he doesn’t say anything. In my life I am used to applying a different approach – be specific, candid and pragmatic to the fullest extent. I do what I say and I never promise what I was not going to do.

Our own national interests – and only they – are determinant in shaping our foreign policy course. To restore Ukraine’s reputation as a reliable and predictable partner we defined these interests in the Law on Fundamentals of Domestic and Foreign Policy.

European integration was and remains our undisputed priority. In our relations with the EU we work on completion of the following projects:

–    Association agreement;
–    Ensuring mutually beneficial access to Ukraine and EU markets in the context of creation of free trade zone; and
–    Development and implementation of the action plan aimed at short-travel visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens.

We stand for granting Ukraine a clear membership prospect and its reflection in the future Association Agreement.

Russia is another important priority. Normalization of our relations and defusing unnecessary tensions that existed before are among our important achievements.

This allowed us to unblock bilateral cooperation in all areas and to considerably improve the general atmosphere in our relations with partners both in the West and in the East.

Today, we have achieved considerable results in the revitalization of our bilateral cooperation. During the last half-a-year, trade turnover has increased almost twofold.

We are actively discussing new, large-scale projects in key economic spheres. Some of them are very close to the implementation stage.

Our strategic task is to preserve, and even to strengthen, Ukraine’s role as a transit country of Russian energy resources to Europe.

Ukraine welcomes the reset of US-Russia relations.

The new tone of Russian-American dialogue considerably stabilizes the situation in the region.

On a separate note, I would like to speak on Ukraine-US relations. We greatly appreciate US support to Ukraine during the years of independence. We are grateful for your assistance in the financial and economic crisis recovery, in implementing reforms in economic and energy spheres, and in strengthening our democratic standards.

We fruitfully cooperated, and will continue to cooperate, in the international arena. Our cooperation on strengthening nuclear security deserves special attention.

As you know, at the April Nuclear Summit I declared Ukraine’s decision to get rid of all stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium.

Today we are actively working on the realization of these relevant decisions and agreements.

Holding an international, high-profile conference in Kiev, dedicated to the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, will be an important next step in this sphere.

We expect that the United States will take an active part in this extremely important international event.

I have also addressed President Barack Obama with a proposal to expand the geography of our contacts. I am glad that in his response, the US President supported such approaches. I have also proposed President Obama make sure that our strategic partnership does not depend on fluctuations of time and situation.

Just one small thing remains to be done – implementation of this and other good ideas. At this point we should work together.

Will correction of our Euro-Atlantic integration course and defining our non-aligned status as the main guidance point in the security sphere leave a mark on our relations?

I am glad to state that both the US President and the Secretary of State have expressed complete understanding of our policy change, underlining the importance to respect the choice of the Ukrainian people.

By the way, the term “non-aligned” or “non-alignment” is not the most adequate one since the era of military blocks has long ended together with the Cold war. But at least, it is concise and understandable.

I think the principle of non-participation of our country in any military-political alliance most adequately fits the current geopolitical realities.

Taking this decision was conducive to defusing tensions that existed both in Ukraine and on the entire European continent in connection with the possibility that Ukraine would join NATO.

However, this decision does not mean distancing our country from topical security issues. One should consider it in the context of our active peacekeeping activities, our course towards pragmatic cooperation with NATO as well as our strategic partnership with the United States.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point let me conclude the first and more brief part of our meeting in order to elaborate on other issues with the help of your questions.

Thank you for your attention.