Source Pravda.Ru

Ukrainian president says he will push forward with EU aspirations

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met with Turkish leaders Tuesday and said the two Black Sea powers would press forward with their European aspirations.

Yushchenko's push comes on the heels of the rejection of the new EU constitution by French and Dutch voters last week, which threw EU enlargement plans into disarray.

Both Turkey and Ukraine have, however, said they remain committed to eventual membership.

"On the subject of integration with Europe, the two countries' political will is the same," Yushchenko said following his meeting with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Yushchenko, who came to power in a pro-western "Orange Revolution" in December, has vowed to lead Ukraine in a more free-market direction, while Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has largely staked his prime ministership on Turkey's success in its EU bid.

Yushchenko met with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer Tuesday, a day after meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"President Yushchenko's visit will be the beginning of a new era in friendly relations and cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine," Sezer said.

Yushchenko and Sezer signed cooperation agreements covering energy, nuclear, railway, law enforcement, and science and technology sectors.

They also discussed the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim Turkic group with whom Turkey has close ties. The Tatars inhabited the Black Sea peninsula for more than seven centuries, but were expelled by Stalin at the time of World War II and were not allowed to return to their homeland until around the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991.

Turkey is currently Ukraine's fifth largest trading partner and third largest export market. The two countries have trade ties of around US$3 billion (Ђ1.6 billion), which Yushchenko said he hoped to raise to US$10 billion (Ђ8.6 billion) by 2010.

But Yushchenko's visit follows a potentially huge setback in European expansion, with French and Dutch voters having rejected the EU constitution in national referendums. Those votes raised questions about whether the EU is still eager to expand eastward.

Turkey and Ukraine, with a combined population of 120 million, represent to some degree what EU voters fear.

They are both large, poor countries whose citizens, it is feared, could migrate in large numbers to western Europe, taking advantage of Europe's generous social programs and increasing local unemployment. The two countries also represent a threat to stagnating EU economies as more and more businesses move eastward in search of competitive cost advantages.

Both Ukraine and Turkey have historical antagonisms to western Europe as well, with Ukraine once a part of the Soviet Union and Turkey the heir to the Ottoman Empire, which reached into the heart of Europe and set siege to Vienna twice.

BENJAMIN HARVEY, Associated Press Writer

On the photo: Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer (on the left), Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko

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