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Biden:  Energy Independence Key to Ukraine's Economic Health


Tbilisi is the second and final stop on Vice President Joe Biden's current trip to demonstrate American support for Georgian and Ukrainian sovereignty. Before his departure for Georgia, Biden told an audience of businesspeople, politicians and students in Kyiv that Ukraine's economic well-being depends on energy independence from Russia.

Vice President Biden delivered his address at Kyiv's Ukrainian House, a culture and arts center that was formerly a Lenin Museum. He reiterated earlier statements about strong U.S. support for Ukrainian sovereignty and again rejected Russian notions about a sphere of influence in countries of the former Soviet Union.

Biden said Ukrainian democracy depends considerably on the energy security of the nation and urged his audience to work toward energy efficiency.

"Nowhere is the relationship between democracy, development, and security clearer than when it comes to energy. Right now, in the United States, we are making significant efforts - at some political expense I might add - to diversify our energy supply, to invest in efficiency, and make some very difficult decisions about how to deal with the carbon footprint," he said.

In his meeting Tuesday with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Biden discussed ways to revive the Ukrainian economy, which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis. In his address, he noted that the Ukrainian government has agreed to economic and banking reforms and also to phase out energy subsidies.

"Carrying out this agreement requires very hard choices and tough action, but it will help put you on the road to growth and competitiveness," he said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko told a Kyiv news conference her meeting with Biden focused on ways to continue Ukraine's relationship with the International Monetary Fund. The IMF set conditions when it extended a $16 billion credit to Ukraine in November to help the country deal with the global economic crisis.

Ms. Tymoshenko said she also discussed delivery of U.S. fuel to her country's nuclear power plants and issues related to its gas-pipeline system.

Ms. Tymoshenko said she considers all discussions with Biden about investments to advance her government's energy efficiency program to have been very important. She says they also discussed risk protection offered by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to small and medium size American entrepreneurs who invest in Ukraine.

American businessman Morgan Williams told VOA he welcomes Vice President Biden's reaffirmation of Ukrainian sovereignty. Williams heads an association of investors in Ukraine.

"It was very important to get this clarified for the business community and for everybody else, as people worry about their money, their investments and what the United States is going to do. I think it was a strong and clear as it could be and needed to be," he said.

The final stop on Biden's itinerary this week is Georgia, where he has scheduled meetings with President Mikheil Saakashvili, members of the opposition and civil society, the country's parliamentary speaker, and also an address to lawmakers.

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