Armed with a penchant for looking on the dark side, many Israelis peer out at Europe today and – fearing signs of efforts to delegitimize Israel around the world – bewail a continent they feel is stacked against it. But the picture is not all bleak. Israel does have friends in Europe, and one of them is Ukraine.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, one senior Foreign Ministry official said recently, Ukraine has emerged as perhaps the friendliest of the former Soviet republics toward Israel. Just how friendly has been displayed in its voting patterns in world bodies, where Kiev consistently supports Israel.
For example, in the UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Commission report on Operation Cast Lead last year, Ukraine was one of only 18 countries that voted in support of Israel, with another 44 countries abstaining and 114 voting against Israel and endorsing the report. In so voting, Ukraine joined such staunch pro-Israel countries as the US, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
President Shimon Peres, accompanied by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, left Tuesday for a three-day official state visit to Ukraine at the invitation of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. To coincide with that visit, Yanukovych, 60, who became president in February, was interviewed by The Jerusalem Post and its sister Russian-language publication Novosty.
Excerpts: Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and an independent Ukraine in 1991, business and cultural relations have been constantly strengthened. The imminent waiving of the visa regime between the two countries will be another incentive for interaction. How do you see this developing?
Ukraine and Israel are comparatively young states, while the history of relations between our peoples is centuries old. The interconnection of peoples’ lives and cultures in the historic perspective is an important element of the friendly, cooperative relations between our two countries today.
Next year we are planning a joint celebration of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
There have been many achievements during these 20 years. Our two states enjoy a close and dynamic political dialogue.
We have created a considerable legal base, and cooperation in the trade, economic, scientific, technical and investment spheres.
We hope the agreement on a visa-free regime between our countries, which will soon come into force, will bring our peoples closer and strengthen trust and mutual understanding.
The [current] state visit of President Shimon Peres is expected to open a new chapter in our bilateral relations.
Among the key prospective directions of our cooperation is the sphere of innovations.
For us, innovative economic development is defined as a national priority.
Israel is renowned for its achievements in hi-tech. Along with the scientific and industrial potential of Ukraine, this could produce promising joint projects.How do you address various experts’ concerns that Ukraine might shift from its balanced position on the Middle East conflict in exchange for inexpensive Venezuelan or Iranian oil?
I don’t want to discuss the theories and contemplations of some “experts,” because Ukraine’s position is perfectly clear and has been declared numerous times in different international forums.
Ukraine consistently follows a balanced and nonpartisan position regarding the Middle East peace process, doing its best to develop stable and constructive relations both with Israel and Arab countries of the region, including the Palestinian Authority.
We are interested in the earliest settlement of the situation in the Middle East as a key to peace and prosperity for all the countries in the region. Ukraine has repeatedly confirmed its firm position regarding the necessity to establish a comprehensive, just and long-term peace on the basis of the existing resolutions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council.Do you plan to visit Israel in the near future?
The political dialogue between our countries at the highest level is dynamic and continuous. I was there in 2004, as prime minister. And I don’t rule out the possibility of another visit in the near future.One million natives of the former USSR live in Israel; more than 300,000 have arrived from Ukraine. People are emotionally connected to their past. Many of them have relatives and friends in your country. Tell us about the political direction Ukraine is following, and what life is like for the people. Also, an area of concern among Ukrainian Israelis is the payment of pensions earned during their working years in Ukraine. What can you tell us about that?
First of all, the presence of such a large community of emigrants from Ukraine in Israel will be one more factor stimulating the development of Ukrainian-Israeli ties in all spheres – political, economic and cultural.
I take this opportunity to reiterate Ukraine’s willingness to deepen the broad ties with our fellow countrymen. We think of Ukrainian expats as an important link, a “live bridge” connecting Ukraine and Israel, creating the atmosphere of a common home.
In order to resolve the issue of payment of pensions to citizens of Ukraine who reside in Israel, Ukraine and Israel are holding ministerial negotiations on an agreement. This will provide the legal and procedural basis of payment of pensions to those citizens of Ukraine who have moved to live in Israel.
Our relevant authorities are currently considering a draft law and a draft ministerial regulation on the issue. When these documents are adopted, citizens of Ukraine who have reached retirement age and who have made their permanent homes in countries with which Ukraine does not have an international agreement on the issue, will be able to receive a pension guaranteed them by the law of Ukraine.During your presidency, relations
between Kiev and Moscow have become increasingly normalized. This is
prompting some concerns in Ukraine that the country is coming under
growing Russian influence. How do you answer such claims?
I am doing everything possible to build fruitful and mutually beneficial
relations, based on universal norms and principles of international law
as well as on the Big Treaty of friendship and cooperation between
Ukraine and Russia. This has been underlined, in particular, during my
visits and meetings with [Russian President] Dmitry Medvedev this year.
Consultations have also been held by heads of parliaments, ministries and other institutions of our two states.
We pay special attention to economic cooperation and the implementation
of joint economic projects. All this will give additional impetus to
economic growth in our two states and, as a result, improve the
well-being of our citizens. I doubt much that such a policy could cause
any objection or any apprehension.The gas question was one of the
critical issues of the recent past. Winter is at hand, and Ukrainian
citizens are worried again. Is there any possibility that the situation
will again become aggravated, that Moscow will threaten to “close the
Do you know the difference between “recent past” and today’s situation? Now we can listen and understand each other.
We negotiate with our partners on changing gas prices, conditions of its
supply and transit. The era of commercial wars has passed.