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Experts: Ukraine Scores High on Economy, Low on Governance

U.S. analysts give Ukraine good marks for economic policies, but agree with the general perception in the country that the government is corrupt. VOA's Barry Wood attended a meeting of experts on Ukraine at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has this report.

Former US ambassador to Ukraine William Miller said pervasive corruption remains the top issue in the former Soviet republic. Now a scholar at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center, Miller said public views on corruption have been constant for several years.

"They (citizens) believe the government is corrupt. They believe their leaders are corrupt. And they believe there is a necessity to make a change, but they find it very hard to understand how they can emerge from the trap that they're in," he said.

Miller believes that a younger generation of business and political leaders is determined to fight corruption.

Economist Anders Aslund, of Washington's Peterson Institute, gives the new government of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko high marks on economic policy. Ukraine has been approved for membership in the World Trade Organization, a development Aslund believes will boost economic growth and provide free trade rules that could diminish corruption.

Aslund says after 16 years of independence Ukraine is becoming a normal European country where a strong political consensus in favor of market-based reform has finally emerged. "So Ukraine has matured in terms of ideology. The communist threat is completely done away with, having only five percent of the votes. And this is one of the major accomplishments of the Orange Revolution (of 2004) and what has come afterwards," he said.

But Aslund says corruption remains a major problem in Ukraine. Corruption is most widespread in the gas industry, in tax collection and customs. He believes that the Tymoshenko government is making some progress in combating corruption in the customs service.

Another former US ambassador in Ukraine, Steven Pifer says, while the business community is in favor of closer ties with the European Union, there is little public support for joining NATO, the western defense alliance. "I think there is support for moving into Europe because they (the business community) see their economic future not as Ukrainian business people but as European business people. That consensus isn't there yet for joining NATO," he said.

The Tymoshenko government has asked NATO to provide Ukraine with a membership action plan, a first step for joining the alliance. Russia is vehemently opposed to its western neighbor joining NATO. A decision on Ukraine's pre-membership application is likely to be made at the April 2 NATO summit in Romania.