Are you satisfied with the level of economic cooperation between our two countries?
First of all, I would like to note that every year this cooperation deepens, as evidenced by high-quality commercial indicators. According to the results of the first half of 2021, we managed to exceed the turnover of goods by 34 percent compared to the pre-pandemic period. Data from our State Statistics Service shows that total merchandise exchange amounted to €749.7 million at that time, which significantly exceeded the same period in 2018 and 2019. If these trends are maintained until the end of the year, we expect to achieve a higher – record turnover of goods between Our two countries for all years of independence.
In what sectors does cooperation develop?
The gas sector is still important. I would like to emphasize in particular the role of Slovakia in supporting Ukraine in the matter of natural gas supplies from Europe to us. Since November 2015, we have stopped direct supplies of Russian gas as a result of Russian military aggression in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. So far, we are replacing most of the gas with reverse deliveries from Slovakia. In 2020, the Fujian-Uzhhorod gas pipeline provided 10.2 billion cubic meters of gas. In addition, the transportation of Russian gas through the territory of our two countries to Europe also plays an important role today from an economic point of view. However, the Russian Nord Stream 2 project poses significant political and security risks to Europe, and will have a negative impact on our two countries. So taking joint steps to act against it is in our best interest.
Where else do you see space for joint ventures?
Another area is the possibility of synchronizing the Integrated Power System of Ukraine with the European Network of Transmission System Operators ENTSO-E. The support and assistance of the Slovak side in this process is very important. Our common borders also predetermine the active development of cross-border and interregional cooperation. Therefore, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to sign a cooperation agreement between the Chernihiv Regional State Administration of Ukraine and the Trencin Autonomous Region earlier this year. An important step will be the resumption of full operation of Uzhhorod International Airport.
What benefit do you expect from it?
The work of the airport is a sign of any region in terms of tourism and in terms of economic attractiveness. This also applies to the Transcarpathian region, which shares borders with four European countries. It should also be noted that Uzhhorod is the most remote regional center from most of our large cities. So air contact with the city is a very urgent need and characteristic of modern life. The resumption of flights and the start of regular contact between Transcarpathia and the regions of Slovakia will support the development of tourism and trade between us. I hope that in the near future I will be able to buy a ticket for the Bratislava – Uzhhorod flight.
Do you think the process of your accession to NATO will move forward?
This is the logic of the historical process. Ukraine will become a member of NATO. In a post-summit press conference on 14 June, its Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, gave us an important message about growing political and practical support within NATO and bilaterally, as other member states do. The alliance said in a statement that its doors are open to us. The resolution adopted at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 is still valid. NATO is intensifying its efforts to assist Ukraine and support integration-oriented reforms. As far as we are concerned, we have consistently carried out tasks related to structural reform, modernization of the security and defense sector, and strengthening of the rule of law.
Ukrainians make up a large part of foreign workers in our country. However, companies complain of complications in hiring them…
Recruitment of foreigners, including Ukrainians, in your country is carried out in accordance with the national legislation of the Slovak Republic, which establishes the relevant rules for this process. The role of our embassy is to ensure that the rights and working conditions of Ukrainians who live and work here are respected. At the moment, you are the largest group of workers from third countries, as well as people with a temporary and permanent residence permit. In this context, steps are taken by both sides to mutually protect the rights and interests of workers, to prevent and combat illegal labor migration. The relevant ministries of both countries are working to review and update the Social Security Agreement signed on December 5, 2000. They are also negotiating a separate agreement on employment and labor migration. I believe that signing these agreements will facilitate the employment of citizens and secure their rights and interests.
A few days ago, Ukraine celebrated its 30th anniversary of independence. Since then, your country has repeatedly declared its interest in getting closer to the European Union and NATO. Are you satisfied at what stage is the current joining process?
Today, the Association Agreement is our main tool for achieving the EU membership criteria. Ukraine and the European Union are now assessing the extent to which the objectives of this agreement have been achieved. Ukraine is determined to continue the effective implementation of the agreement by implementing reforms aimed at greater political and economic integration, as well as legal rapprochement with the European Union. At the same time, we count on the support of the EU Member States in achieving the objectives of the Association Agreement, in particular the gradual integration into the internal market of the European Union. I would also like to note that Ukraine hopes that the EU will be more open to the countries of the Eastern Partnership, which are looking for a European perspective.
Is there any progress?
On May 17, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova signed a memorandum of understanding on strengthening cooperation within the framework of European integration – the so-called League of Three. Our aim is to work together to enhance a European perspective of our countries and to further develop our group’s programs for deeper integration with the EU – so to speak – to get “more for more”. It is clear that the Eastern Partnership needs a stronger and more strategic vision, especially with regard to deepening sectoral and economic integration, as well as developing the security dimension. With regard to NATO, the high momentum of the political dialogue between NATO and Ukraine is the key to the further development of our relations and practical cooperation. NATO’s decision last year to join Ukraine in the NATO Enhanced Capabilities Program came as a result of Ukraine’s close cooperation with NATO. We have had strong support from Slovakia in this matter and we greatly appreciate that. This year, Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations were included in the final communique of the 2021 NATO Summit in Brussels. The Membership Action Plan (MAP) remains a priority for Ukraine. The President, Parliament and the entire Government of Ukraine together pledge to take full advantage of all opportunities to prepare for membership. We expect the members of the coalition to contribute to the process of reaching a consensus on an action plan for Ukraine in the near future, and of course we hope that the Slovak Republic will support this step.
Slovakia is a direct neighbor of Ukraine. Our country cooperates in many areas. What importance does Slovakia play in Ukrainian foreign policy, especially with regard to rapprochement with the European Union?
I believe that Ukrainian-Slovak cooperation can serve as a model for good-neighborly relations between the two countries. Our cooperation is distinguished by the intensity of contacts, positive results in the main areas of mutual interest, mutual support and effective solutions to emerging problems. We have a high level of mutual trust in the international arena. We are grateful to Slovakia for sharing its experience in the European integration process with Ukraine. Slovakia has an important place in Ukraine’s foreign policy. According to the Foreign Policy Strategy of Ukraine, approved by the Decree of the President of Ukraine on August 26, 2021, “good relations with the Slovak Republic form a positive basis for further strengthening of cooperation at the bilateral level and within international organizations.”
How can we help you?
In the context of the role of Slovakia in the rapprochement with the European Union, the Ukrainian side relies on the assistance of official Bratislava and civil society in coordinating the position of the European Union on the further development of relations with the Eastern Partnership countries associated with the European Union – the Triple of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Moreover, the agreement between Ukraine and the European Union and its member states on a common aviation area was signed at the Ukraine-EU Summit on October 12, 2021. Ukraine has also been involved as an integral part of the European democratic area in some discussions of the integration of energy markets in Ukraine and the European Union. Then also in intensifying cooperation with the countries of Visegrad in order to learn from European and Euro-Atlantic integration, increase the level of defense capabilities in Central and Eastern Europe, and finally in expanding cooperation in the implementation of joint educational and humanitarian projects with the European Union to support people-to-people contacts.
On the last Crimean podium, our Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced that Slovakia would never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea. How do you rate that?
The inaugural summit of the Crimean platform was an unprecedented event in the history of independent Ukraine, both in terms of the number and level of foreign participants, as well as in terms of content, despite strong pressure from Russia and attempts to cancel it. The summit became the starting point for the creation and development of a new international format around the removal of the occupation of Crimea. The issue of Crimea is high on the international agenda. The event was attended by official delegations from 46 countries and international institutions. A joint declaration was adopted, announcing the creation of the Crimean Platform, condemning Russia’s crimes in the occupied Crimea, and affirming the readiness of foreign partners to continue the policy of non-recognition of the attempt to annex Crimea, and to increase pressure on the Russian Federation.
Are these steps an important signal to you about the position of our country?
Slovakia’s support is very important to us in terms of our immediate neighbourhood. And neighbors should always be good friends and understand each other. Since the beginning of the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, the Slovak Republic has always supported the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine, which was reflected in public statements and in practice. The decisive position of the Slovak leaders on the non-recognition of Crimea as Russian confirms the consistency of Slovakia’s foreign policy, which is based on strict adherence to international law. Our country also considers international law the only instrument in the world that is the key to peace. Unfortunately, we can say that the Kremlin thinks otherwise. Sometimes the leaders of the Russian Federation seem to live in the model of the 17th century, when the law of the strong prevailed. There are many examples. This is why Slovakia’s pro-justice voice sounds so loud. By the way, after the words of the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic about not recognizing Crimea as Russian, I was surprised by a critical statement in the clip of the Slovak social network addressed to Eduard Heger from some, in my opinion, irresponsible Slovak politicians. I will tell you such a thing. Each country has the sovereign right to formulate its foreign policy on the basis of national interests. Keep in mind that having values such as respect for human rights or international law is a hallmark of a civilized country. This policy is implemented by specific persons. Edward Heeger is undoubtedly a responsible politician. Because he emphasized in his own words that international law, justice and European values are a priority for Slovakia.
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