Meanwhile, Ukraine’s experience as the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident—the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant—gives it high profile at events related to nuclear energy and safety.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Mr. Yanukovych discussed the importance of Ukraine’s nuclear security efforts as well as his thinking on two important economic issues facing the country.
WSJ: Why was it important for Ukraine to get rid of highly enriched uranium?
Mr. Yanukovych: Ukraine has been a consistent supporter of nuclear disarmament and the limitation of nuclear weapons. From the first years of its independence, Ukraine consistently declared its intention to get rid of nuclear weapons. We supported the initiative of President Obama. We made the decision to remove all highly enriched uranium from the territory of our country because we believe this is an integral part of our security. And by doing this, we contributed to making the world safer. Now I can say the security situation in Ukraine has improved. For the time being, there is no threat of a terror attack for Ukraine and the region because all nuclear materials have been taken away from the country. The remnants pose no danger to the country and are not interesting for terrorists as material for producing nuclear weapons.
WSJ: What does the country need to do to transition to low-enriched uranium, such as for medical isotopes?
Mr. Yanukovych: As far as the technologies for research are concerned for production of isotopes from low-enriched uranium, there’s an agreement between Ukraine and the U.S. for conducting research in this sphere. We are about to start construction of a research facility in the near future.
WSJ: Ukraine serves as an example for other countries to reduce their stockpiles of HEU. Will you join in the calls made by the U.S. and Russia for return of HEU?
Mr. Yanukovych: Those countries that continue to keep stockpiles of HEU on their territory are guided by their own principles. That is their affair as an independent country. In the time from the Washington to Seoul summits, people have come to understand the problem of nuclear security. Many events dedicated to nuclear security have taken place and the relevant work is in place. I believe the strengthening of nuclear security is mandatory. It goes without saying.
I remember when we organized the summit in Kiev in May 2011 that many countries came to Ukraine. It was also an exemplary event where 100% of the financing was raised for the initiative of the confinement to do away with the dangers present in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Today, the majority of countries understand what the nuclear security agenda is. The next summit in 2014 in the Netherlands will deal with this. But the main thing is for countries not to lose time between now and then and make every effort to raise nuclear safety and security to a higher level.
WSJ: Ukraine is involved in ongoing negotiations for gas with Russia and there’s been some news reports about the prospect of restructuring debt with the International Monetary Fund. Those are two difficult economic challenges. What’s your assessment of them at this point?
Mr. Yanukovych: If I may, I would like to finish some points about the first subject.
After my meeting with President Obama, we came to the conclusion that the trust between us is growing. We have reached an eye-to-eye position. All issues that are on our agenda, they will be completed. This is the first point I would like to make.
On Apr. 26, we are about to initiate the launch of the construction of the shelter confinement project of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This plant still poses a threat, not only to Ukraine but the world over.
At the conference [last year] dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the tragic accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, we put up an initiative to set up a research and training center in the Chernobyl area. We have our own experience with the consequences of nuclear tragedies. I believe we can set up such a center in the Chernobyl area. It would be a good idea to involve Japan in working together on the project. This country has huge experience in overcoming nuclear tragedies as well. This initiative remains high on our agenda and I voiced it during the summit in Seoul.
As far as the gas issue is concerned, this is a complicated and painful issue for our country.
Ukraine has the highest gas price in Europe and it is unsubstantiated for the Ukrainian consumer, groundless. The negotiations that have been in place with Russia for over two years are still fruitless. Ukraine had to reduce consumption of natural gas. This is the direct result of these negotiations. In the future, we will follow this track of reduction. And we will put into operation the substitution of natural gas for coal with the application of special technologies. And certainly, we will search for alternative sources of gas, cheaper gas, and we will step up our internal gas production. For this reason, we need investments. And of course, we will have to look for diversification of gas supply. At the same time, we do not abandon our hope that negotiations with Russia will yield a good result.
As for the relations with the International Monetary Fund, these relations are on a partnership basis and transparent. Virtually, we observe all the requirements of the International Monetary Fund except for one requirement, which is the increase of the gas tariff for consumers by 50%. And we cannot agree to such a requirement because the tariffs we have now are high, if not the highest. All other requirements are met and we hope in the long-term we will reach agreement. We will carry on with a stand-by program. That renegotiation is not on the agenda today. Ukraine is very responsible for its external obligations and pays and services all its loans in time. The economy is stable and it shows a trend for growth. The two last years have shown the economy is growing steadily. For 2012, we remain optimistic about the economy and internal situation in our country. Optimism is the key word.
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