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Ukraine Relearning Democracy, Says Ukraine's Ambassador to U.S.

(Washington, DC--March 23, 2006) Ukraine's new Ambassador to the United States says that the difficulties Ukraine's government has experienced over the last year since the "Orange Revolution," should not be seen as a "year lost," but rather "a year to learn to govern." H.E. Oleh Shamshur, who presented his credentials of U.S. President George W. Bush on March 13, told a RFE/RL audience last week that Ukraine's government and Ukrainians "relearned democracy" over the last year.

Shamshur said that the new government and Ukraine's democratic movement, which brought it to power, have made some avoidable mistakes during the past year, "but others were not avoidable" and are necessary in a society governed by democratic principles. Among the accomplishments of the current Ukrainian government, the Ambassador listed its progress in building civil society, establishing democratic ground rules, guaranteeing freedom of the press, and "shatter[ing] the autocratic foundation of corruption" within Ukraine. Shamshur said that oligarchic power and the most dangerous elements of corruption have been undermined by the government's rigorous investigations and prosecutions.

The economy has also improved, Shamshur said, with poverty diminishing as a result of a 20 percent increase in real income and a 12-fold increase in benefits for children. As the "corrupt schemes of the shadow economy" that were prevalent in 2004 have been exposed, Samshur said that inflation has been successfully held to 10.3 percent and Ukraine enjoyed a 2.4 percent increase in its GDP in 2005. The Ambassador said that the government hopes to encourage "sound economic growth" by targeting investment in high tech industries such as aerospace, machine tools, and transport infrastructure.

Amb. Shamshur said that the natural gas crisis of early 2006 has reinforced his government's commitment to restructure Ukraine's energy sector. The cabinet recently adopted an energy strategy that calls for lower consumption, energy independence, and securing a reliable supply of energy by diversifying energy suppliers. Translated into specific programs, Shamshur said, the Ukrainian government is determined to develop "safe nuclear energy," retool its coal sector, diminish the consumption of natural gas, and integrate into the European energy network.

With parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in a week, Amb. Shamshur noted that the period after the election will be important, because the coalition that will come to power will have to "set new rules" for itself, but the tasks will remain the same. Shamshur expressed his belief that, because the President of Ukraine retains important powers in setting foreign policy, this policy dimension will remain important to the new government, which will have to demonstrate "the continuation of reform" and its commitment to "European and Trans-Atlantic integration."

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.