Byline: Rod Nordland
With new elections only four months away, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's political problems are beginning to mount. The Ukrainian economy is tanking, the Orange coalition has fallen apart and a bitter dispute with Russia over natural-gas supplies has Europe worried. While touring a Ukrainian armored tank brigade's base in Bila Tserkva last week, just before a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Yushchenko spoke with NEWSWEEK's Rod Nordland. Excerpts:
NORDLAND: Will Iraq and the allegations of secret U.S. prisons in Europe be topics in your talks with Condi Rice?
YUSHCHENKO: Our agenda is mainly economic. Iraq is a zone of Ukrainian interest, and the presence of the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent the last year signified our adherence to our commitments. We're now removing our contingent, and we are offering a... second phase of our cooperation, gendarmes, specialist military training, security training... And we are ready to participate in our reconstruction projects in solidarity with business interests from other countries.
Is there any possibility you'd agree to keep troops beyond the Dec. 31 date for their final withdrawal?
No, we're not going to keep them longer.
The Russians are fearful of Ukraine's drive to join the accession process to the European Union and NATO. What do you say to them about this?
These fears upset me. Where else can we go? Russia itself is economically entwined with Europe much more than Ukraine is. I don't recall the exact figure, but more than 50 percent of its exports are to Western Europe. The Russian business elite and its practices are even more Europeanized than we are. Our fates are there. We will be in Europe one way or another--it's inevitable.
Moscow is asking Ukraine to pay more for its imported natural gas. Ukraine has retaliated by threatening to cut Russian gas exports to Western Europe, 80 percent of which transits through Ukrainian pipelines. Are you at an impasse?
No, not at all. I believe we will have a resolution to this issue by the end of December.
Your polls are slipping, and some even suggest that your opponent, Viktor Yanukovic, whom you defeated less than a year ago, is now more popular than you are. …