On Monday, 13 June 2011, Amb. Mykola A. Kulinich, Ambassador of Ukraine to Japan, spoke at UNU Headquarters in Tokyo. In the third session of the ambassadorial lectures series organized jointly by the UNU Office of the Rector and UNU-ISP, the ambassador presented his country’s profile to students of the UNU master’s degree programme, JSPS-UNU fellows and interns from various UN agencies. Vesselin Popovski, a Senior Academic Programme Officer at UNU-ISP, opened the session by introducing Ukraine as an Eastern European state that has experienced various political changes over the past ten years, but which has managed to find its way to rapid recovery from political turmoil and the worldwide economic crisis of 2008.
Ambassador Kulinich started his lecture by introducing Ukraine as both a young and an old state: Ukraine will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union on 24 August 2011, yet its history stretches back to before Russia itself. The Ukrainian capital Kyiv was founded in the fifth century, and Christianity was introduced in the year 988.
Touching on more recent history, the Ambassador highlighted Ukraine’s role in international politics. In 1945, it was one of 51 states which drafted the UN Statute and, in consequence, founded the United Nations. Moreover, 17 years ago Ukraine set an example to other states by signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and scrapping its nuclear arsenal.
Today, Ukraine enjoys a presidential-parliamentary system of government. Viktor Yanukovych has been the president of Ukraine since 2010, but elections in Ukraine have not always been conducted as smoothly as last year. The widely publicized Orange Revolution, for example, was triggered by allegations that the 2004 presidential election was ridden by electoral fraud.
Ambassador Kulinich stressed that the main aim of his country now is to become a member state of the European Union. He also noted that Ukraine expects to sign a free trade agreement with the EU by the end of this year.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought many significant changes to the Ukrainian economy by shifting from an administratively planned economy to a free market economy. Ukraine has a ferrous metal industry, producing cast iron, steel and a wide range of metalware, including pipes. The Ambassador highlighted that the Soviet Union also left a positive legacy to the Ukrainian economy by creating such world-famous companies as the Antonov aircraft manufacturing and services company with particular expertise in the field of very large aircraft construction. He noted that the economy will improve more if Ukrainian infrastructure, such as highways, can be developed better in forthcoming years.
In closing, the Ambassador touched on the hot topic of nuclear energy. Ukraine is known to have experienced the worst nuclear disaster ever, in 1986. Ambassador Kulinich stressed that people should not compare Fukushima with Chernobyl because the amount of leaked radiation in Japan is only 5 per cent of what was observed in Chernobyl. In addition, Chernobyl was caused by human error in comparison to the natural disaster in Fukushima. Also, people in Ukraine and neighbouring countries received no information about the disaster for several days, and it took the government ten days to start evacuating children from Kyiv.
Questions raised during the Q&A session touched on such topics as the Orange Revolution, Ukraine’s membership in NATO, Yulia Tymoshenko’s role in current politics, possible membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the gas pipeline with EU member states. On the topic of the Orange Revolution, Ambassador Kulinich explained about the enormous pressure it had put on the newly elected president Viktor Yuschenko, who could not implement all his pre-election promises due to developments in the Ukrainian parliament and the economic crisis of 2008. The Ambassador also commented on the NATO-Ukrainian relationship, saying that Ukraine is now comfortable in a partner rather than member role. In fact, he noted that recent opinion polls suggest that many Ukrainians see NATO more as a threat rather than an organization that can bring security to the country.
This was the last session of the ambassadorial lecture series for this semester. From September 2011, this lecture series will be held on a monthly basis exclusively for UNU students, JSPS-UNU fellows and UN interns.