RIGA - Energy and NATO membership were at the top of Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko's agenda during his official two-day visit to Latvia on April 27-28. The two sides also discussed energy issues, which have become increasingly sensitive due to the Kremlin's new assertiveness in foreign policy.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga welcomed her Ukrainian counterpart at the Riga Castle, where the leaders discussed trade possibilities between the two countries and Ukraine's ambition of joining the EU and NATO. The talks resulted in three bilateral agreements, according to the president's press-office. After meeting with Yuschenko, Vike-Freiberga told journalists they had discussed Ukraine's vital transit role in energy supplies. "We would like the Caucasian energy resources to go through Ukraine," Vike-Freiberga said.
Yuschenko added that Ukraine would be a unique transit country and could supply oil and gas to other regions, including the Baltic states. He said that no European country could create a stable energy policy by itself as the energy market was "a market of interdependency."
The Ukrainian president also thanked the Latvian government for meeting the needs of Ukrainians residing in the Baltic state. He assured Vike-Freiberga that, likewise, his government was ready to help and support Latvians in Ukraine.
"I am convinced that in our diverse world it is vital to preserve native languages, literature and history in order to preserve nationalities," Yuschenko said, adding that a special council for working with expatriate Ukrainians has already been established in Ukraine.
During the council's first meeting last week, he added, it was decided to give passports to hundreds of Ukrainians living abroad, including 144 in Latvia.
"We aim to help the Ukrainian diaspora integrate with Ukraine and adopt its way of life," he said.
Vike-Freiberga assured Yuschenko that Ukraine could rely on Latvia. "It is very important for Ukraine and Latvia to develop economic and business relations, whose potential has not been fully used," she said, adding that the business climate in Ukraine had considerably improved since 2005.
Freiberga also complimented Yushchenko on the commendable conduct of Ukraine's "truly democratic" elections, before offering her heartfelt condolences to the nation on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
"This catastrophe showed that the Soviet system was faulty and incapable of protecting its people," Freiberga said.
Yuschenko also spoke to students, diplomats, politicians and academics in a lecture at the University of Latvia entitled "Ukraine in the Modern World" during his visit. The Ukrainian president outlined the changes that had taken place in his country following the "Orange Revolution" and spoke of Ukraine's efforts to join the EU and NATO.
He expressed hope that a Latvian-Ukrainian commission would become functional within a few weeks' time and would establish a framework for future cooperation between the two countries. The commission would pick some seven or eight areas of policy to focus on, Yuschenko said, with the contentious issue of energy close to the fore