29 May 2007 - 13:14
  • News Code: 105855

Ukraine is actively searching for alternative energy supplies to avoid another energy crisis, and Canadian nuclear technology and expertise could play a big role, the country"s foreign minister said Monday.

On Jan. 1, 2006, Russia cut natural gas to Ukraine, through which a quarter of Europe"s gas is supplied–just over a year after the "Orange Revolution" that saw pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko take power.

 

While Russia said the dispute was over gas prices and Ukraine"s refusal to pay, critics alleged the move was intended to keep it from leaning too far west.

 

Since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has been caught between Russia and the West, and experts say the only way the East European country can become truly independent of foreign influence is by weaning itself from Russian energy supplies.

 

While he avoided connecting the energy crisis to political interference in a presentation at the University of Ottawa, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said his country is interested in finding alternatives to ensure such a crisis isn"t repeated.

 

"Our target is to diversify the supply and the energy attitude," he said. "I mean to substitute oil and gas with some kind of electricity."

 

One way to do this, Mr. Yatsenyuk said, could be with Canadian technical expertise, including Canadian-made CANDU nuclear reactors "because Ukraine has one of the biggest stocks of uranium in the world" and is under the supervision of international monitors and agencies.

 

Ukraine, which was the scene of a devastating explosion at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986, has 15 operational nuclear power plants in the country and two more under construction

 

Mr. Yatsenyuk would not say what steps have been taken towards securing Canadian assistance.

 

"First I have to analyze this and only afterwards we shall decide whether to have a co-operation agreement," Mr. Yatsenyuk said after his presentation, though he added the energy issue is "very, very important."

 

 

Still Striving for Democracy

 

The Ukrainian foreign affairs minister also praised Canadian support for democracy and governance development in his country, which constitute the brunt of Canadian aid to the development partner.

 

The Canadian money, which Mr. Yatsenyuk estimated to be around $300 million, is being focused on civil society development, election training and monitoring and judicial reform.

 

With an election due by the end of the year after President Yushchenko dissolved parliament last month, one thing that Ukraine desperately needs is an electronic database of voters to help with free and fair elections, Mr. Yatsenyuk said.

 

Ukraine"s 2004 presidential election was rife with electoral fraud as voters moved around the country casting numerous ballots.

 

Even now, the country is currently caught up in political turmoil as Mr. Yushchenko and prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, his pro-Russian rival during the Orange Revolution, are vying for control of the country.

 

Mr. Yatsenyuk said Ukraine is working towards becoming a real democracy, but has not yet achieved that goal 16 years after independence.

 

"We study democracy," he said. "A level of maturity is needed and a political culture is needed. These are the first signs of the emergence of a political culture in Ukraine."

 

The minister also lamented the small amount of bilateral trade between Canada and Ukraine, calling the $300 million "almost nothing" and declaring his intention to increase the flow of goods.

 

Following a meeting with Mr. Yatsenyuk after the presentation, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay announced that Canada will be contributing $5 million to upgrade security at Ukraine"s airports and border crossings to monitor the movement of nuclear material.

 

PIN/Embassymag.Ca

News Code 105855

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