Viktor Yanukovich has made Brussels the destination of his first foreign trip as
Ukraine’s new President before going to Moscow this Friday.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told him the EU needs urgent refurbishing in Ukraine’s gas sector. The EU is heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies that flow through Ukraine. Yanukovich also heard calls to get talks with the International Monetary Fund back on track, after suspension of a loan programme to the former soviet socialist republic last year.
He sought encouragement, saying: “We also hope that we can get a chance to further continue our work on visa-free travel.” He said a road map for that would be finished this year.
Under a loan deal brokered by the EU to help Ukraine pay for gas and modernise the sector, Kiev should have raised the domestic gas price but it has not.
In spite of Yanukovich’s pro-Russian leaning, he is also under pressure at home to improve relations with the West.
Aude Merlin, an analyst in Brussels, referred to the political, economic and cultural landscape:
“Yanukovich, in electoral terms and in terms of regional weight and language, is closer to Russia; it’s a fact. At the same time, we know that among the oligarchs — the economic forces — surrounding him, for example Rin, one of the ones who finances his party, there are people who need the opening up to the West, and opening up to the European market as much as to the European Union [politically].”
A free trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine was also discussed in Brussels. Barroso said: “We believe that a more dynamic and competitive Ukrainian economy is in our mutual interests,” but, he added: “reforms are necessary.”