“Ukraine is a European country with powerful potential”
GDL: Your Excellency, can you please tell us how Ukraine finds itself on the eve of the 25th Anniversary of its Independence?
VS: On August 24th, Ukraine celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its Independence. This year is an important time for Ukraine, because our country, with arms, had to resist aggression in Eastern Ukraine and in occupied Crimea, defending its independence and territorial integrity.
The armed conflict, which covers about 20% of the country, unfortunately, has taken, and continues to take, lives. Within this context, Ukraine stands on the basis of a peaceful/diplomatic settlement of the conflict by all parties based in line with the provisions of the Minsk agreements.
Specifically, I would like to note that Greece, which has held the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2014, took an active role in supporting Ukraine on the illegal occupation of the Crimea and the military aggression in Eastern Ukraine. We are grateful to Greece for its consistent support of the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and its European integration course.
However, even in times of crisis and with the escalation of conflict in the Donbas, Ukraine pursues system transformation and the implementation of internal political and economic reforms.
We are working closely with our international partners, moving forward with reforms, improving the investment climate in our country, as well as building a dialogue with civil society.
GDL: The international community is closely watching events in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. What is happening in these areas today and what steps are being taken by the state for resolving this situation?
VS: The recent years’ events have dramatically changed the political, economic and social life of our country. The illegal occupation of the Crimea and the ‘hybrid war’ against Ukraine in Donbas, with almost daily deaths among the civilian population, have created a radically new environment and new circumstances that Ukraine has not experienced before.
In terms of the threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Ukrainian state is taking all possible measures, especially on the diplomatic level, to restore peace in Eastern Ukraine. In early August, there was another dangerous escalation of tensions in the Crimea, where the Russian side accused Ukraine of alleged ‘terrorism’ in the occupied peninsula. In this connection, I wish to emphasise that such provocations will not help restore peace and stability in the region, and, to quote the words of the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, who in his statement said: “Ukraine is devoted to restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity exclusively through political and diplomatic means”.
Undoubtedly, the main condition for peace in the Donbas is the full implementation, by all the parties of the Minsk agreements (taken to de-escalate armed conflict in eastern Ukraine). The Ukrainian side has repeatedly stated its willingness to move forward in implementing their obligations under the Minsk agreements, including elections in the relevant regions of Donbas. However, without the withdrawal of the pro-Russian troops from Donbas and the restoration of control by Ukraine on the Ukrainian-Russian border, any discussion of the unilateral implementation by Ukraine of its commitments to the Minsk agreement is non-logical.
The most complete monitoring of the borders, whilst ensuring access by the OSCE Mission to all areas (which consists of the 24 villages) in the east of Ukraine, remain relevant. The process of discussions with international partners over the expedient deployment of armed international police missions in the conflict zone also continues.
Ukraine feels the unity of the positions of EU-Member States within the context of the restoration of peace and stability in the region. An important achievement is the continuation of the EU Council economic sanctions against certain sectors of the Russian economy through to January 31st 2017.
In these difficult times Ukraine has thanked its Greek partners for their position of support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country in the context of the situation in the Crimea and Donbas.
Ukraine is grateful to Greece for the practical steps it has taken to block the attempts of Russia to involve it in political games – by which the Russian side is trying to use the whole arsenal at its means, from establishing economic ties between Crimea and Greek businesses, to exploiting the rich heritage of historical ties between the Crimea and Greece.
GDL: How would you describe the current relations between Ukraine and the EU?
VS: Nowadays, full membership in the EU remains one of the main priorities of Ukraine’s foreign policy. Relations between Ukraine and the EU, launched in December 1991, are particularly important in today’s conditions, because Ukraine is a European country with a strong potential for development. In June 2014, our country signed an Association Agreement with the EU. The political part and provision for cooperation under the Agreement came into force in November 2014.
Since January 1st 2016, a free trade zone between Ukraine and the EU was launched as a trading part of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. It creates favourable conditions for the development of trade and economic cooperation with its European partners and will allow Ukraine to diversify the geography and range of national products which it exports through the liberalisation of access for market conditions in the long term.
Also on the agenda is a visa free regime with the EU. The Ukrainian side has completed all the requirements required by the European Commission for the implementation of the criteria of this visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens to the EU. In turn, the European Commission adopted recommen-dations to EU-member countries to introduce the visa-free regime with Ukraine. We expect that after reviewing proposals by the European Parliament, the Council will positively approve the Ukrainian decision, which in the future will open up additional opportunities for interpersonal and business contacts.
Within this context, I would again like to thank Greece, which has supported, and continues to support, Ukraine in its European aspirations. On November 18th 2015, the Hellenic Parliament ratified laws on the association agreements between the EU and Ukraine, the EU and Moldova and the EU and Georgia by majority decision. The ratification was then greatly complicated by technical procedures for the re-approval required in connection with the 2015 Parliamentary elections and changes in the Greek Government.
We look forward to further support from Greece. I believe that the next step will be the signing of the Ukraine-EU full membership Agreement.
“Ukraine feels the unity of the positions of EU-Member States within the context of the restoration of peace and stability in the region.”
GDL: Mr. Ambassador, you spoke about the fulfilment by Ukraine of assumed obligations. Can you elaborate, and more precisely, what changes have occurred in your country?
VS: In accordance with the commitments of the European Union, the Council of Europe and other international organisations, our country has conducted a series of structural reforms. The implementation of these reforms is an important part of becoming a European Ukraine. Within this context, I would like to emphasise significant steps, implemented by our state in recent years.
One of the important areas of work is to update government and anti-corruption reform, which aims at a significant reduction of corruption in Ukraine, reducing losses in the state budget and businesses through corrupt activities and improving Ukraine’s position in the relevant international rankings.
Perfection to the necessary legislation was achieved in 2014, whilst during 2015, an open competition for positions of managers and staff of three new anti-corruption institutions was held: the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), anti-corruption prosecutors (CAP) and the National Agency for the prevention of corruption.
As of June 2016, (data for seven months by NABU and CAP) 148 proceedings were held investigating leaders of state, prosecutors, judges and other officials. This resulted in the announcement of 35 reports of suspicious conduct, indictments on 19 people and the forwarding of 15 court proceedings (including eight of which were for judges).
As part of the reform of law the Patrol Squads Service and State Automobile Inspectorate was replaced by newly-instated Patrol Police. For almost a year the Patrol Police is working in three regions – Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv – and 32 Ukrainian cities (including cities in the frontline areas – Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Mariupol).
Alongside this, in early 2015, the necessary legislation for the reform of decentralisation was adopted.
According to the Law of Ukraine on ‘voluntary association of communities’, regional administrations and regional councils developed and approved long-term plans capable of forming communities in 23 regions (except Zakarpattya).
Judicial reform is also important for our country. The amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on justice and the new law on the ‘judicial system and status of judges’ has been adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament. It is necessary to note, that changes to the Constitution have been positively assessed by the Venice Commission, they met the recommend-ations of the Council of Europe regarding the independence and accountability of judges and the role of prosecutors. The law creates the conditions for updating the judiciary, including the formation of a new Supreme Court on the basis of competition. It also sets higher standards of judicial independence and ensures greater transparency and accountability of judges to the public.
“There is a great potential for deepening cultural and humanitarian cooperation. The famous Greek revolutionary organisation ‘Filiki Eteria’ (Society of Friends), which played a crucial role in the national struggle for freedom and independence of Greece, was born in Odessa.
“Our people share common spiritual ideals and democratic social values. The Greek community of Ukraine is an integral part of Ukrainian society and significantly contributes to its development. It has over 100,000 people, most of which live in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.”
A number of important steps towards the democratisation of the political system have also been made; including the introduction of electronic addresses and electronic petitions as tools of public influence on the development of national and local policies. Citizens of Ukraine have the opportunity to initiate and support petitions with topical issues to the President of Ukraine (25,000 signatures), the Kyiv City Council (10,000 signatures), etc. It should also be noted, that today the media have a significant impact on society and politics, even though it was difficult to establish the real owners of Ukrainian TV channels. To this end, on April 1st 2016, the television and radio stations of Ukraine published information about their beneficial owners.
I would like to underline, that it is a mistake to combine the strengthening/weakening of the European Union’s sanctions against Russia with the results of the internal reforms in Ukraine. As everyone knows, the sanctions were imposed in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the occupation of territories in East Ukraine. However, I believe that the international community fully understands that Ukraine has, and continues to carry out important reforms and that it needs to be supported in this direction.
“I am very pleased to say that there are no problems between Ukraine and Greece that would complicate bilateral relations, based on the grounds of friendship, trust and mutual support.”
GDL: Throughout history Ukrainian-Greek relations are traditionally friendly and constructive. In today’s changing environments, how would you describe them today?
VS: I am very pleased to say that there are no problems between Ukraine and Greece that would complicate bilateral relations, based on the grounds of friendship, trust and mutual support.
In fact, more recently there has been an intensification of political dialogue at the highest level, particularly in international events, with Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, meeting with their Greek counterparts to discuss topical issues surrounding Ukrainian-Greek cooperation and practical ways in which to improve upon it.
The Embassy keeps in constant contact with the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, branch Ministries and Departments and the Hellenic Parliament, ensuring and encouraging in this way regular discussions on all aspects of the development of Ukrainian-Greek cooperation.
Currently on the agenda is the question of increased cooperation between the friendship groups that exist in the Parliaments of our two countries, in particular an exchange of visits of Parliamentary representatives in Kiev or Athens in the autumn of 2016 or early 2017, and the practical implementation of agreements on the development of bilateral regional cooperation.
“As for economic relations between Ukraine and Greece, they are characterised by positive dynamics, as evidenced by economic indicators. Trade turnover between our countries amounted to 433.2 million USD in 2015 (107 million USD in January-February 2016).”
GDL: Can you tell us more about the achievements in Ukrainian-Greek economic relations?
VS: As for economic relations between Ukraine and Greece, they are characterised by positive dynamics, as evidenced by economic indicators. Trade turnover between our countries amounted to 433.2 million USD in 2015 (107 million USD in January-February 2016). The exportation of goods from Ukraine to Greece reached 153.8 million USD, imports – 238.5 million USD. It should be noted that there was also an increase in Greek imports of fuel, which amounted to 163.2 million USD (or 87.3% of total Greek imports from Ukraine).
Traditionally, the structure of export-import operations between Ukraine and Greece is ferrous metals (50.1%), seeds and oleaginous fruits (20.7%), cereals (8.9%), fats and oils (6.6%). Greece imports oil and petroleum products (163, 2 million USD), edible fruits and nuts (18.7 million USD), pharmaceuticals (11.1 million USD), aluminium products (6, 6 million USD), chemical products (6.3 million USD), and electrical machinery (5.6 million USD).
Ukrainian companies are willing to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with their Greek partners in agriculture, shipbuilding and shipping, energy, including alternative, food, medicine, tourism, information techno-logy and environmental technologies.
We also have a good record in the field of road and air traffic control and there is a healthy prospect for Ukrainian-Greek cooperation in the military-technical sphere.
“I would also like to express my gratitude to Greece for the support and assistance it has provided for the recovery in Greece of Ukrainian children from poor families, alongside the rehabilitation in Greece of Ukrainian soldiers wounded in the line of duty.
Despite the difficult economic situation and the circumstances surrounding refugees, Greece willingly offered its support.”
GDL: In your opinion, what place does Ukrainian-Greek cultural and humanitarian cooperation occupy within international dialogue?
VS: Due to many objective factors, the humanitarian aspect of Ukrainian-Greek relations occupies a specific place. Here is our own history, religion and community, the presence of significant amounts of archival materials and the desire to explore the cultural and archaeological monuments that unite our peoples.
There is a great potential for deepening cultural and humanitarian cooperation. The famous Greek revolutionary organisation ‘Filiki Eteria’ (Society of Friends), which played a crucial role in the national struggle for freedom and independence of Greece, was born in Odessa.
Our people share common spiritual ideals and democratic social values. The Greek community of Ukraine is an integral part of Ukrainian society and significantly contributes to its development. It has over 100,000 people, most of which live in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
Since Ukraine has become independent, is proceeded a revival of the national cultural activities of the Greeks in Ukraine, which suffered significantly by the limitations imposed during Soviet times. Nowadays in the different regions of Ukraine there are many Greek national cultural public associations, which are united into the Federation of the Greek Communities of Ukraine with the centre in Mariupol.
The Greek community in Ukraine, supported by the governments of Ukraine and Greece, not only revived its newspaper entitled ‘Greeks of Ukraine’, which was destroyed during the Stalinist repression, but also a network of education in their native language. Today, Modern Greek is taught in more than 40 secondary schools, as well as in the State Universities of Mariupol, Kiev, Odessa, Lviv and other higher educational institutions.
The legal basis for deepening cultural and humanitarian cooperation is the agreement between the Government of Ukraine and the Government of the Hellenic Republic on cooperation in culture, education and science and the relevant programme of cooperation between Ukraine and the Government of the Hellenic Republic in the field of education, science and culture, within which every year cultural and artistic exchanges take place between the two countries.
Among the most prominent cultural events this year, I would like to highlight main events such as the presentation of the cultural project ‘Lviv art in the world’, held in March at the cultural centre of the Embassy in cooperation with the Lviv Regional State Administration and the presentation of the Ukrainian art project ‘We have the sole destiny – its name is Ukraine’ and the Ukrainian artists exhibition, that was held in June this year at the Museum of Marika Kotopouli with the support of the Mayor of Zografou. Ukraine is also an active participant in international festivals which take place in Greece, namely in the areas of folklore, theatre, cinema and more.
Another area possessing significant potential in the spheres of cultural, educational and scientific exchanges is the direct cooperation between the universities of the two countries. Right now we have over 20 cooperation agreements between the Universities of Ukraine and Greece.
I would also like to express my gratitude to Greece for the support and assistance it has provided for the recovery in Greece of Ukrainian children from poor families, alongside the rehabilitation in Greece of Ukrainian soldiers wounded in the line of duty. Despite the difficult economic situation and the circumstances surrounding refugees, Greece willingly offered its support.
GDL: Apart from Greeks in Ukraine, it is well known that there are also a significant number of Ukrainian citizens living Greece. Do you have organisations to bond these people into a community, and in today’s rapidly changing environments, are Greeks and Ukrainians good examples of how societies can live harmoniously side by side?
VS: Yes, certainly in recent decades there has been a cohesion and active development of the national culture of the Ukrainian community in Greece. In Athens today there are six registered Ukrainian associations. In three of them, including the Association ‘Ukrainian-Greek Thought’, ‘Trembita’ and ‘Bereginya’, there exsists Ukrainian Saturday schools and children’s art groups, while the fourth union – the ‘Ukrainian Crane Land’ – has the Ukrainian Cultural Centre and Library.
Significant cultural and educational activities are held at the Ukrainian community of St. Nicholas, which operates within the Holy Trinity Church in Athens. Thus, upon the initiative of the Ukrainian community, and with the support of the Embassy of Ukraine, successful charity concerts were held in Athens, Patras, Pireaus and Thessaloniki by the famous Ukrainian folk duet ‘Pysanka’ of the Chernivtsi Philharmonic Hall.
It is my strong belief, that the Greek community of Ukraine and the Ukrainian community in Greece is not only evidence of the fruitful, historical, cultural interaction of our peoples, but also a guarantee of their constructive cooperation in the future.
GDL: Your Excellency, thank you for your time. Is there anything else that you wish to add?
VS: I would just like to emphasise the importance of this magazine which focuses on the diplomatic life in Greece. As one, who with interest reads the magazine and thus have the ability to be in the centre of all the important events surrounding diplomacy and international politics of Greece, I would like to thank everyone who diligently works on each issue of Greek Diplomatic Life and wish you all success in your future endeavours.
GDL: It is our pleasure Mr. Ambassador – thank you.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life