Mr. Orhan Gafarli, BILGESAM researcher on the Caucasus, recently conducted an interview with Ukrainian ambassador to Turkey, Mr. Sergiy Korsunsky. The interview developed around the topics of bilateral relations between two countries, Turkish and Ukrainian policies on Caucasus and potential areas where two countries could deepen their relations.
OG: What are your estimations concerning the development of the Ukrainian-Turkish relations over last 20 years?
SK: First of all, I would like to mention that it is a real pleasure to work and live in Turkey, which is a friend and a true partner of my country, Ukraine.
We have a very rich history of bilateral contacts and the last five years have been particularly dynamic and fruitful. Through common efforts we have created a solid background for a trustful political dialogue, mutually beneficial economic cooperation and extensive people-to-people contacts.
In practical terms, I would point out to the following achievements. First, we have reached the level of strategic partnership, which opens up new possibilities and brings our countries much closer to each other. Every year we hold meetings of the High Level Strategic Council under the co-chairmanship of President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which adopts necessary decisions aimed at deepening our relations. The Strategic Planning Group was set up to prepare meetings of the Strategic Council. More than a dozen of joint commissions and working groups are covering almost all fields of the Ukrainian-Turkish cooperation.
Bilateral trade turnover is constantly increasing and last year it reached $6.1 billion with 8% increase. Among all our trade partners, Turkey ranks second for the volume of the export from Ukraine. We expect that trade between Ukraine and Turkey will further increase considerably after we sign the Free Trade Agreement, which is being negotiated now. Also, it is important to note that the Turkish investments into the Ukrainian economy are considerable and continue to grow.
The large-scale projects are carried up in energy, transport, defence and aerospace industries. We are working on developing direct rail-ferry communication between ports of Ukraine and Turkey. Then, the Turkish Side is considering a possibility of Ukraine’s involvement in the implementation of the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) project. Moreover, we are discussing joint exploration of the Black Sea floor and production of energy resources as well as developing the aerospace sector where Ukraine holds a leadership position in the world and so on.
On August 1, 2012, a visa free regime between our states came into force. Annually more than 600,000 Ukrainian tourists visit Turkey. The Turkish visitors to Ukraine are also on the rise, with an increasing number of Turks traveling to the Black Sea coast of the Crimea.
We are now at the final stage of preparing a bilateral Program of Interregional Cooperation. This document will boost contacts between regions of Ukraine and Turkey in economic and humanitarian dimensions.
Also, we have established effective cooperation within the international organisations. It is a good tradition that we support each other in different global and regional forums.
Despite these achievements, I am adamant that Ukraine and Turkey still have a vast potential for advancing cooperation. We believe that this potential as well as lack of political contradictions between the two states serves as an important factor of steady development of our partnership.
OG: What role does Turkey play in Ukraine’s foreign policy?
SK: The Ukrainian foreign policy has moved away from the traditional East-West dilemma and now much attention is being paid, in particular, to the Southern dimension. Turkey has become one of the focal points of our diplomatic efforts in this regard.
We appreciate Turkey’s political and economic clout and an active position with regard to the current issues of the regional and international agenda. Therefore, we are seeking not only to develop cooperation at the bilateral level but also to enhance interaction in the multilateral domain.
I believe that there is a favourable ground for this. As I have mentioned before, the two states do not have political contradictions. Instead, they have common traits and many of their practical national interests coincide. For example, our two countries play a considerable role in the communication between the East and the West, the North and the South. Then, both states are interested in securing peace at their border and regions, providing for prosperity of their citizens as well as ensuring energy independence. We could be very helpful for each other and also complement each other in different areas in the third countries.
I believe that, as strategic partners, we must do our best to make proper use of the potential of our states to benefit our nations as well as promote stability and prosperity of the whole Black Sea region.
OG: Is Ukraine’s foreign policy mainly focused on Europe?
SK: Ukraine pursues a balanced foreign policy which incorporates all geographical components. At the same time, cooperation with Europe is of particular value for us. To be more precise, Ukraine’s key foreign policy priority is the European integration. Although we aim at acquiring a full membership in the European Union, we understand that there is so called enlargement fatigue in the EU at the moment and, therefore, are looking for securing political association and economic integration with this alliance and free travel of citizens at this stage.
In this regard, we are finalizing negotiations on an Association Agreement between Ukraine and EU, which also incorporates a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) now. In line with this process, the Ukrainian Government currently undertakes in-depth reforms to ensure compliance with the EU requirements.
We expect to sign this important document at the upcoming Vilnius summit, which will take place in November this year.
Moreover, we are engaged in a dialogue on a visa liberalization regime between Ukraine and the European Union and rely on positive dynamics in this issue in the nearest future too.
OG: What are prospects of Ukraine and Turkey in the European integration context?
SK: Pursuing the European integration policy is one of the common things between Ukraine and Turkey. However, we are at different stages: as I said before, Ukraine is on the eve of signing the Association Agreement while Turkey has been linked to the EU through a respective association agreement since 1963 and conducted pre-accession talks since 2005.
However, honestly speaking, there are a few reasons why make an EU decision about our accession difficult. One of them is that, according to the European scale, we are really big countries and could potentially change the existing balance of power. The fear of our “bigness” actually impedes the Europeans from duly calculating advantages the EU could get from the accession of our two states, which range geographical and geopolitical aspects to economic and human potential.
At the same time, the European integration process is valuable per se as it inspires systemic internal transformation and renders us much stronger and more competitive in the nowadays world.
I am pleased to note that Ukraine and Turkey have established a consultative mechanism with regard to the European integration, i.e. political consultations at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers as well as Directors General for the EU Affairs of the Foreign Ministries. During the respective meetings, we exchange views and relevant expertise.
OG: What is Ukraine’s policy towards NATO?
SK: Ukraine is a non-bloc state which, however, is determined to pursue constructive partnership with NATO through all available mechanisms, including the Annual National Programs, NATO-Ukraine Commission and Joint Working Groups.
We are interested in enhancing political dialogue at all levels. The Defence Ministerial meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission which took place earlier in February has given a renewed momentum to both political and practical interaction between Ukraine and NATO.
I must note that Ukraine’s practical cooperation with NATO has been well-established in a wide range of areas, including peace-support operations, defense and security sector reform, civil emergency planning, science and environment.
Speaking about the Ukrainian-Turkish cooperation on this matter, we highly appreciate financial contribution made by Turkey to the NATO PfP Trust Fund project to eliminate surplus conventional ammunition, anti-personnel landmines and SALW in Ukraine. We are very pleased with Turkey being a donor-country within the second phase of the project.
Ukraine appreciates close cooperation with Turkey within NATO Air Situation Data Exchange Program. We look forward to further keeping this cooperation on track.
Ukraine takes much interest in joining NATO’s Smart Defence initiative. We would be grateful if Turkey could facilitate Ukraine joining the Initiative.
As of today Ukraine is the only partner nation participating in all ongoing NATO-led operations and the first partner nation to take part in Operation Ocean Shield.
As a major contributor to the regional and international security Ukraine is prepared to further engage in the NATO-led operations, among them being ISAF in Afghanistan, KFOR, Operation Active Endeavour and Operation Ocean Shield.
On February 22, 2013 Ukraine and NATO signed Agreement which paves the way to Ukraine’s practical participation in the antipiracy Operation Ocean Shield through the deployment of its frigate off the Horn of Africa in the second half of 2013.
OG: What are objectives of Ukraine with regard to cooperation with the Customs Union?
SK: As you know, Ukraine has recently signed a Memorandum with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan which envisages that Ukraine becomes an observer in the said formation. This event triggered some speculations questioning intentions of the Ukrainian Side with regard to pursuing the European integration agenda.
Here, I must reiterate Ukraine’s commitment to the European integration process and emphasize that the participation of our country in the Customs Union is aimed primarily at expanding economic cooperation with its members who are among our largest trade partners. To illustrate, today the trade volume between Ukraine and the Customs Union states amounts to $63.1 billion (36.3% of the overall foreign trade of Ukraine).
At this stage, we are trying to find the most appropriate model of cooperation with the Customs Union, which would accommodate our national interests as well as those of the group’s member states.
However, as in relations with any other union or state, we seek to ensure that cooperation with the Customs Union does not contradict our European integration policy, which remains of priority.
In this regard, we will probably have consultations with the European Commission to coordinate that any possible mechanisms of cooperation between Ukraine and the Customs Union comply with our commitments under the future DCFTA.
OG: What are the prospects of cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey in the Black Sea region?
SK: The Black Sea region is an important element on the Ukrainian-Turkish bilateral and multilateral agenda. We share an understanding that common problems need to be addressed jointly.
This region has come noticeably into the focus of international attention in the past few years. It will surely be more so in the next decade, since this area is a principal transport route of oil and gas resources from the Caspian Sea region to the European markets. Thus, the Black Sea security and energy landscape is going to change dramatically over next decade.
Ukraine and Turkey are active participants of a number of arrangements in the field of security in the Black Sea. In particular, a Document on Confidence-and Security-Building Measures in the Naval Field in the Black Sea ensures direct communication channels and information exchange between the navies of the Black Sea states, promotes cooperation in the prevention of the environmental threats, struggle against terrorism and illegal drug and weapons smuggling. BLACKSEAFOR allows for joint naval exercises and master interaction during search and rescue operations in the Black Sea. Cooperation in the framework of the Operation Black Sea Harmony is aimed at monitoring the above-water situation, collecting information on suspicious ships, the cargoes they carry and their routes. The Black Sea Border Safety Initiative looks promising with regard to struggling against proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction.
Moreover, the Black Sea region is important for the European energy security since the way to ensure it lies in the diversification of energy supply sources and transportation routes in order to decrease dependence on a particular supplier. In other words, we are talking about developing new routes from the hydrocarbons-rich Caspian basin via the Black Sea region to the European markets.
OG: Sir, thank you very much for taking the time to address these questions.