(The European Parliament, Brussels) - At a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday morning, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk called for a new EU strategy towards his country and for a EU-Ukrainian free trade area. MEPs questioned him on Ukraine’s relations with the EU, Russia and Belarus and on the upcoming elections.

Mr Tarasyuk repeated that EU membership remained Ukraine’s ultimate goal, but in the meantime it was looking forward to negotiating a new association and partnership agreement as well as a free trade area with the EU. The present agreement expires at the end of next year. A majority of the population supports the "European ambition", while in parliament an overwhelming majority is in favour, Mr Tarasyuk said.

The upcoming parliamentary and local elections, to be held on 26 March, would be fair, free, democratic and transparent. The Ukrainian government has invited the EU, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the UN and NATO to send election observers. Mr Tarasyuk was confident that the March elections would be very different from the ones held at the end of 2004 and would be an expression of the genuine will of the Ukrainian people.

The Foreign Minister also mentioned the recent vote of no-confidence in the Ukrainian parliament. He explained that President Yushchenko had declared this vote null and void as the proper constitutional procedures had not been followed. Things have been complicated by the fact that there is no Constitutional Court in place, as the parliament refuses to swear in new members of the court.

On the gas supply dispute with Russia, Mr Tarasyuk said that the implementation of the agreement reached between Gazprom and Naftagaz was now being negotiated. Meanwhile, Russia is maintaining other economic pressures on Ukraine, such as the total ban on meat and milk importsfrom Ukraine, which is worth over half a billion dollars and comprises 40% of Ukraine’s total meat and milk exports. Only last week, the Russian government refused to receive a Ukrainian delegation.

Questioned about the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Mr Tarasyuk said that his country was currently conducting an inventory of all territory used illegally by the Russian fleet.


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