Ukraine's prime minister Viktor Yanukovych pledged his commitment to democracy and continued economic reform during a visit to Washington Monday. VOA's Barry Wood reports.
In his first visit to Washington since becoming prime minister last August, Mr. Yanukovych said Ukraine's key strategic objective is membership in the European Union. He suggested that on this issue, at least, there is general public consensus. The prime minister welcomed cooperation with NATO, but noted his country of 47 million remains divided and insufficiently informed about the issue.
"A great number of our people still fear that our accession to NATO would be directed against Russia," said Viktor Yanukovych. "As a result, only one of five Ukrainians is ready to support filing a membership application today. One cannot fail to take this situation into account."
In recent months, Mr. Yanukovych's centrist Party of the Regions has come to dominate Ukrainian politics. It was the biggest vote getter in the March, 2006 parliamentary election and its ascendance has pitted Mr. Yanukovych against Ukraine's more pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, the principal leader of the December 2004 Orange Revolution. At that time Mr. Yanukovych, the losing candidate in the presidential election, was viewed as a pro-Russian foe of democracy.
In his address, at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Yanukovych stressed that Ukraine is a young democracy fully committed to individual liberties. He said foreign investment continues to be welcome in Ukraine and that economy is growing at a six percent annual rate. He said his priorities are to avoid unneeded polarization within the country and promote national unity. While seeking good relations with Russia, its powerful neighbor, Mr. Yanukovych insisted that Ukraine, in its relations with Russia, must be treated as an equal partner. He said Ukraine also remains a reliable and essential partner for NATO.
While in Washington, Mr. Yanukovych is meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.