Ukraine Aims to Join European UnionNEW YORK—Ukraine's president said Kiev is determined to join the European Union, but also needs to maintain strong ties with Moscow to ensure his country can serve as a dependable conduit for Russian energy supplies to the West.
President Viktor Yanukovych, who has devoted considerable effort since his election earlier this year to mending Ukraine's badly frayed relations with Moscow, said Wednesday that Kiev is "already playing the role of a reliable bridge" between Europe and Russia.
"Ukraine is moving steadfastly along the road of European integration," Mr. Yanukovych told The Wall Street Journal in an interview ahead of this week's United Nations General Assembly meetings. But, he said, "we don't want to insult anyone as we take that road."
Given Ukraine's location and its desire to profit from Russian energy shipments to the EU, "we are doomed to keep a good balance," he said.
Mr. Yanukovych has met with EU leaders to discuss the initial steps toward membership in the regional bloc. A summit between the two sides is set for November. Ukraine is also negotiating a free-trade agreement with the EU. Mr. Yanukovych said Russia isn't opposed to EU membership for Ukraine.
After Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004, which brought outspokenly pro-Western politicians to power in Kiev, relations between Ukraine and Russia deteriorated sharply. Spats between Kiev and Moscow led to serious disruptions in gas flows to Western Europe.
The protesting crowds of the Orange Revolution forced an annulment of Mr. Yanukovych's victory in a discredited 2004 election. But infighting among Orange coalition politicians eventually alienated voters. Mr. Yanukovych won the presidency in February in polling widely viewed as fair.
Mr. Yanukovych described Ukraine's previously acrimonious relations with Russia as "not only detrimental for our two countries, but for the rest of the world." He said trade between Ukraine and Russia, which had fallen sharply, was now "getting back on track."
But he said that for Ukraine, European integration is an important "instrument to modernize the country, to bring it closer to modern European standards." It is "a process Ukraine should undergo as quickly as possible," he said.
The Ukrainian president also added his voice to a campaign by Kiev to halt plans for the South Stream gas pipeline across the Black Sea to Europe. He said the pipeline, which would circumvent Ukraine, would be more expensive to build and less safe than improving the existing pipeline network in Ukraine.
He also said relations between Ukraine and Russia are now on a firm footing, there is no need for South Stream.
In addition, Mr. Yanukovych said Ukraine had no intention of banning grain exports. Fears of such a move have contributed to rising prices for grain, as harvests in Russia and elsewhere have suffered because of drought—leading Moscow to halt grain exports. "We have never had any export ban. We are not going to have one. We are not going to have quotas either," he said.
Opposition leaders have accused Mr. Yanukovych and his political allies of harassing them and limiting freedom of expression in the name of stability. Mr. Yanukovych acknowledged that there were problems. "Like many post-Soviet countries, Ukraine has certain diseases," he said.
But, he said, they aren't systemic. "There have been some separate individual occurences when rights and freedoms" were violated, he said. "This should be given special emphasis in our policies."
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