Lebanon News

Ambassador: Ukraine broke, desperately needs foreign aid

Ukrainian ambassador to Lebanon Volodymyr Koval speaks during an interview with The Daily Star in Baabda, Friday, March 21, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BAABDA, Lebanon: Ukraine’s new government is in desperate need of financial support from the world community, according to Volodymyr Koval, the country’s ambassador to Lebanon.

“We are waiting for economic and financial support from any international institutions,” Koval told The Daily Star.

“We need a predictable, stable economy,” he added. “We need this money because we have zero money in the new government.”

An IMF delegation in Ukraine is expected to finish their assessment in the coming days, Koval said.

“The IMF will give us money for modernizing the economy,” he said. “We’re expecting more than $18 billion from the IMF.”

The IMF financing, Koval hopes, will be a catalyst for further aid from the international community.

“When the IMF starts to credit us,” he said, “Immediately ... EU banks will credit us also.”

The Ukrainian army is particularly underfunded, he stressed.

“We have no money for them. Nothing. During the last four years, the Ukrainian army didn’t receive any money for development, no exercises, nothing,” he said. “When the government started to discuss the level of our army, they said there is [not even enough] gasoline.”

Russian hostilities against his country have forced the new government to divert additional funding to the army. “All Ukrainian forces are moving toward the eastern border.”

Koval said he had spoken to several high-ranking members of the Lebanese government, including Prime Minister Tamman Salam, who reiterated that Lebanon is a neutral party, a stance which Koval says he understands.

“I understand very well, because Lebanon has its own problems,” he said, adding that a regional response to the Ukrainian crisis should be defined by the Arab League.

Koval vehemently denied the Kremlin’s accusations that “neo-fascists” were at the helm of his country’s new government, blaming Russian media for spreading falsehoods.

“This is former Soviet propaganda,” he said.

Many Ukrainian authorities and diplomats have deep ties to the Soviet Union, he noted.

“I worked during the Soviet Union in the military area. I was a professor,” he said, adding that his research required him to cooperate with the military in the Soviet Union.

“Do I look like a Neo-fascist?”

While the presence of some radical elements among the opposition was a concern, Kovol said that a lack of economic opportunities was to blame.

“If people receive money ... these people will start doing their jobs ... [and] they will leave the streets.”

The illegal annexation of Crimea, Koval explained, came as a complete shock.

“When somebody told me Russia had occupied Crimea, I said no. But when I opened the TV and the Internet, I saw,” he said. “We [Ukrainians] are shocked.”

Ukraine has no intention of recognizing the annexation, he added.

“This is our territory, our land.”

Kovol said he was confident that Ukraine would recover Crimea, although he admitted this could take several years.

The annexation, Kovol insisted, has global implications.

“The invasion of Ukraine and the annexing of territory is changing global security, the world order.”

If Russia can annex Crimea with impunity, couldn’t Japan invade the disputed Senkaku Islands, or Spain storm Gibraltar, he asked.

Despite his sharp rebuke of the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine, Kovol said that only a diplomatic solution between the two nations could solve the current crisis.

“We have no alternative to political and diplomatic negotiations to find a solution,” he noted.

“Fact is fact. ... We’re neighbors,” he said. “We should cooperate with each other. We have real, common economic interests.”

Still, Kovol decried the steady flow of Russian backed “provocateurs” into Eastern Ukraine. Waves of pro-Russia protests have swept Ukrainian districts of Lugansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv in recent weeks, threatening to deepen the fissures in the country.

“Russia sent these [people] to make provocation against the state, against the government.”

The ambassador, however, cautioned against describing the Ukraine conflict as East versus West.

“We are not against Russia. We are not against Europe. We are pro-Ukrainian,” he said. “People should feel comfortable in the country without any pressure from the outside.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 24, 2014, on page 4.




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