Nigeria and Ukraine have a great future together, says ambassador
Ukraine celebrated its 26th independence anniversary on August 24. The country’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Nigeria, Dr. Valerii Aleksanruk, told IGHO AKEREGHA, Abuja Bureau Chief and Bridget Chiedu Onochie, that both countries have more to share than separated.
Your Excellency, we congratulate you on your Independence Day celebration. Please, tell us a little about your country?
Thank you so much. On August 24 this year, all Ukrainians around the world celebrated the 26th Anniversary of Ukraine’s renewed independence. Ukraine is a quite a young state but Ukrainian nation has a very bright and rich history as well as the traditions of statehood and good governance. Anyone who comes to Ukraine will have no option than to fall in love with the country. Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine and one of the most beautiful and green cities in the world, was founded in the middle of the 5th century AD and became the center of a great and peaceful nation called Ukraine. From the 7th century BC, the Scythians lived on the territory of modern Ukraine. Later, the Greeks settled on the north coast of the Black Sea and they founded city-states there. Slaves came to Ukraine in the 5th century AD. In the 9th century, Swedish Vikings sailed along rivers into the heart of Eastern Europe. Some of them settled in Ukraine. In 882, a Viking named Oleg was the ruler of Kyiv and the city became the capital of a powerful state – the Kyivan Rus’.
In 988, Grand Prince of Kyiv Volodymyr the Great has Christianized the Kyivan Rus’. Unfortunately, in the 12th century, the Kyivan Rus’ state broke up into fragments and in 1240, the Mongols conquered southern and eastern Ukraine. However northern and western Ukraine remained independent. In the 17th century, the Cossack Hetmanate was founded on the territory of Ukraine by the Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. The Cossack Hetmanate was abolished in 1764 and most territory of Ukraine was taken by Russia. Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), national hero of Ukraine, presented the intellectual maturity of the Ukrainian language and culture through his work as a poet and artist.
Imperial Russia however, imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate Ukrainian culture, even banning the use and study of the Ukrainian language. In 1917, the Central Rada proclaimed Ukrainian autonomy and in 1918, the Ukrainian National Republic declared independence under President Mykhaylo Hrushevsky. After years of different wars (external and internal) of so-called Epoque of freedom conqueror, the territory of Ukrainian was incorporated into the Bolshevik Soviet Union in 1922. Considering the contributions of Ukraine to the victory in the World War II, it was invited to become state-founder of the United Nation Organization, among other states including the Soviet Union, in 1945.
Ukraine had a good relationship with Africa even before its independence especially through its activities in the UN. Can you explain how deep this relationship is?
Exactly. The years of membership of Ukraine in the United Nations were closely related with the African continent. Ukraine was one of the strongest fighters against colonialism, apartheid and race discrimination. Being a member of the UN Special Committee against apartheid for many years, Ukraine struggled against discrimination and inequality in Africa. The feeling of freedom is in the blood of Ukrainian nation and it came to us from the times of Cossaks, who were very brave warriors. I would like to talk about the first Cossak’s Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk of 1710, which is recognized as one of the best state created documents in the European history. By the way, the well-known airport, Orly in Paris has direct ties with the name of Pylyp Orlyk. Ukraine eternal feeling of freedom was realized after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The monumental independence declaration of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) 26 years ago enabled Ukrainians to reclaim their land from the Soviet regime and secure their territorial integrity and sovereignty. The new state has entered the international arena. A strategic course towards European integration has been chosen in the foreign policy of Ukraine and has remained strictly unchangeable despite the fact that Russia is trying to keep Ukraine in the sphere of its interests. By the way, do you know that the geographic center of the European continent is situated in Ukraine?
After independence, Ukraine started building effective diplomatic service, inter alia, in the African space. The Embassy of Ukraine in Nigeria opened in 2001. The sphere of responsibility of our Embassy also includes five states of the West Africa Region, including Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Togo. The zone of consular accountability of the Embassy in Abuja also includes The Gambia and Sao Tome and Principe. In the bilateral sphere Ukraine is building strategic partnerships with key foreign partners on the principles of reciprocity and pragmatism, developing a network of the long-term partnership with the states that become new centers of political and economic development. Ukraine has presented itself as a responsible international partner. It showed an example of nuclear disarmament, having voluntarily abandoned, after USSR’s falling, the third largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world that contributes to the overall stability and security in the world. Being a victim of one of the biggest nuclear catastrophe in human history – Chernobyl Nuclear Power works in 1986, Ukraine remains confident of the principles of non-proliferation and elimination of nuclear weapons.
Your Excellency, how important is your couzntry on the European scene with its robust economy.
Ukraine is a state with well-developed market economy and powerful export capabilities. It is well known for its fertile black soil and farms provide substantial quantities of meat, milk, grain and vegetables to other countries. Its diversified heavy industry supplied the unique equipment (for example, large diameter pipes) and raw materials to industrial and mining sites. Ukraine holds 20 per cent of the world’s titanium deposits and has by its production capacities, become a leading player in full-cycle titanium production. Ukraine possesses significant capabilities of the aviation sphere. Ukrainian enterprise, ‘Antonov’ is eligible to manufacture both civil and military airplanes of high quality. It has full cycle of aircraft creation – from design to serial production and complex after-sale support. Antonov Design Bureau and Production Complex has 70 year-history and built more than 22,000 aircraft. Cargo giants AN-124 ‘Ruslan’ and AN-225 ‘Mriya’ are key expertise of Antonov and the special pride of aviation designers, and have remained among the biggest world aircrafts. And if we compare Antonov’s prices for aircraft and aviation services with other ones in the world, it will come to light that this jets are really unique. Also, Ukraine is a state with high technologies and strong traditions in space exploration. State Space Agency of Ukraine has 27 research and development, engineering centers and production companies.
The agency has large portfolio of rockets, engines, and satellites, docking equipment, devices and control systems. With powerful facilities in space exploration, Ukraine can make space projects of West Africa countries a reality. The third largest city of Ukraine, Dnipro, is also called the ‘space capital of Eastern Europe’. Ukraine is one of the largest exporters of military equipment in the world and also modernize and repair the different kinds of military products. Ukrainian city of Kharkiv is not only the capital of tank-building, but also a place, where the most powerful tractor-plant in Europe is situated. And Ukrainian agricultural machinery would be very helpful in Nigeria and other African countries. With a highly educated labour force, a wealth of natural resources, unique geographic location and a developed industrial base, Ukraine is working towards translating its resources and potentials into a competitive advantage in various sectors of the economy. Despite the continuous occupation of Crimea by Russia and its hybrid and sometimes, even open war in Ukrainian Eastern regions, our country still manages to overcome economic, political and humanitarian difficulties. There is an improvement in our economy. According to Ukrainian statistics, this year’s GDP growth should be 2.2.4 per cent. We have quite good external trade growth. During the first six months of 2017, total trade with other countries increased by 26 per cent compared to the same period of last year. The average wage has increased and the state expenditures for social needs significantly raised up.
Ambassador, how is the internal situation in Ukraine, especially your relations with Russia?
As I already said, historically and geographically, Ukraine belongs to Europe. After its independence in 1991, our country has chosen a European way of development. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation still harbor imperial aspirations to keep Ukraine in the zone of its interests, while Ukraine is confidently moving towards Europe. As you know, our country in 2015, signed an Association Agreement with the EU, and commercial trade with the EU is now developing successfully in the Free Trade Zone. Also, in July this year, Ukraine received a visa-free status in its relations with European Union. Ukraine was ready to sign the Association Agreement with the EU earlier in 2013 but because of the former government’s abrupt refusal to sign this agreement and the protests that began in November 2013 as a result, it transformed into a demand for dignity and respect. It was immediately Ukraine made a clear European choice with the Revolution of Dignity that Russian aggression against Ukraine began. Crimean peninsula, the autonomous part of Ukrainian state, was roughly occupied by Russian troops. The separatist groups in the East with strong Russian support control a part of Ukrainian territory. Ukraine started an anti-terrorist operation (ATO) to protect its own territory and initiated at the same time, a diplomatic process to find ways of resolving the conflict under the Minsk Agreement. Unfortunately, Russia is not complying with the Minsk Agreements and Russian troops are prolong their presence in the East of Ukraine, supporting the terrorist organization called ‘Luhansk People Republic and ‘Donetsk People Republic’ (LNR/DNR).
Russia is continuing escalation by committing numerous unlawful actions and violations of the international law that proved unreliability of Russia as a partner. Claiming peaceful intentions, Moscow continues regularly to supply the Donbas terrorists with weapons and other reinforcements. Continued violation of fundamental norms of international law by Russia is causing disruption of the international security architecture with unpredictable consequences. Therefore, Ukraine together with its international partners, introduced sanctions against Russia. Comprehensive international pressure should persist until Russia stops aggression against Ukraine. The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and we are profoundly grateful for Nigeria’s firm support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and this UN Resolution. Ukraine is able to contain the terrorist threat on the Donbass region, which is already openly supported by Russia. Strictly fulfilling the Minsk agreements requirements, Ukrainian army is successfully opposed to on-going pro-Russian militant attacks, but the losses of Ukrainian people today is measured already by thousands of our citizens killed and tens of thousands wounded. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from eastern regions of Ukraine receive state aid and successfully integrate into new places. The country became even more united and tied in reaching the main goal – to get rid of historical dependence on Russia. That’s why the word ‘Independence’ obtained by Ukraine is not symbolic but in a very concrete means.
Sir, what effort is your government making to move your country forward under these circumstances?
The free and fair Presidential and Parliamentary elections which was held in 2014 amidst Russian aggression proved to the world’s community, the transparency, fairness and democratic values of Ukraine, and clearly confirmed the European way of Ukrainian nation. Talking about domestic political track, I would like to stress that political instability has been resolved, new pro-European reformist government headed by the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has been formed including Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. The new government will provide an impetus for systemic reforms in Ukraine. Economic growth has begun and right now, it is high time to move from survival strategy to a strategy of accelerated development. Parliamentary forces within the coalition are united in addressing joint action plan and support government’s actions in providing crucial reforms. The government has managed to stabilize the macro-economic situation in Ukraine and launched a bunch of important reforms in economic field. Major part of reforms is concentrated on deregulation. It is not only improvement of the investment climate and business conditions, but also a decisive fight against corruption. We have made good progress in deregulation that significantly eased the registration of business; we have streamlined the tax system and cleaned up our bank system.
What about Ukraine’s relationship with Nigeria?
I am very pleased to be appointed as Ambassador to the very important country that plays key role, not only in the region of Western Africa but in the entire African continent and in the world. Ukraine pays special attention to the developing deeper relations with Nigeria. As the Ukrainian Ambassador, I am doing my best to promote our relations to the level never seen before. It is a pleasure to note that Ukraine and Nigeria enjoy fruitful cooperation within the framework of international organizations. Ukraine considers Nigeria an important partner, especially in the area of trade and investments. Ukraine is interested in developing relations with the West Africa region, in particular, with the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). Currently, we are looking at the possibility of creating the Free Trade Area with the ECOWAS. The readiness of our two countries to continue political dialogue and to get deeper cooperation in different fields was confirmed during the meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin and Nigeria Geoffrey Onyama on March 1, 2016 in Geneva, also in May 2016 in course of third session of the bilateral political consultations in Abuja, as well as during my last meeting with Minister Onyeama on August 25 this year.
Our relationship has developed quite well in recent years. In the economic field, Nigeria is already one of the most important commercial partners of Ukraine in Sub-Sahara Africa. And, according to Ukrainian statistics, the commercial trade turnover between Ukraine and Nigeria for six months of this year has a significant growth of over 119 per cent, worth about $ 61 million, and this figure must increase. We believe that there are lots of areas where we can deepen our relations and develop them further, such as in the areas of agriculture, mining, renewable energy and infrastructure, where Ukrainian companies have great expertise. The presence of several Ukrainian companies in Nigeria is a testimony to the level of confidence my government has in Nigeria. We are very pleased to see that more and more Ukrainian companies are looking for new opportunities in Nigeria. Ukraine is encouraging more of its companies to come into Nigeria and invest as well as establish partnerships with Nigerian companies. The great mutual interest to economic cooperation is proved also by the first Ukrainian-Nigerian business forum held successfully in Kyiev earlier in May. Already, there were several exchanges of business delegations. Some Nigerian companies have intention to open their representatives in Ukraine. We are planning to establish an Intergovernmental joint commission with Nigeria and it will cover the whole range of political, economic and security areas. There are many areas in which we can move further and deepen our very close cooperation. So, Ukraine-Nigeria relations have a bright future.
How is Ukraine’s Military Cooperation with Nigeria?
Nigeria and Ukraine have enjoyed good military cooperation. As an Ambassador, I have done a lot to promote good relationship between Nigeria and Ukraine for years and this is improving by the day. The relationship should not lead to closure but should improve for the better. Ukraine has supported Nigeria in fighting Boko Haram insurgency. We supplied a lot of military equipment, ammunition, helicopter stands and other military equipment to fight insurgency. Up till now, we have continued our cooperation in military sphere. I have met the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Navy, Chief of Air Force and the Minister of Defense to deliberate on how to extend our cooperation in military sphere. Consequently, we are in the process of signing agreement on military cooperation. Presently, there are several Nigerian delegation in Ukraine to sign some agreements and contracts. We proposed training Nigerian soldiers because we have good facilities for training. So, it is development because development is one of the most promising areas of cooperation between Ukraine and Nigeria. We are sure that providing a legal base of such cooperation, notably the signing of the Agreement on Military Cooperation between the Defense Ministries of both Countries will allow us to further develop mutually beneficial ties. Being a country, which suffer from terrorism, Ukraine strongly condemns the acts of terror committed by Boko Haram terrorists and stands firmly with Nigeria in its fight against this evil. In these circumstances the military cooperation between our two countries could be very important as we struggle together against this awful threat. I would like to use this opportunity to wish all Nigerians and their leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, to successfully overcome all challenges that Nigeria faces today as well as success in building a prosperous and peaceful country. I would like also to congratulate all Ukrainian citizens and all our supporters in Nigeria on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the Independence Day of Ukraine.
You spoke so well about the military capability of your country, does Ukraine manufacture military hardware:
Yes. it does. We produce everything military hardware. Starting from sophisticated riffles to heVy military equipments- tanks, fighter jets and body armor. During my meeting with the Chiefs of Army, Air force and Navy, I showed all of these to them. There is a delegation of Nigerians visiting Ukraine for negotiation to supply military equipment.
During the last administration in Nigeria, the US blockaded the country and asked other countries not to sell arms to Nigeria, did Ukraine join in this military supply embargo?
Yes. we supplied in the past and we are ready to continue to supply and that was the reason I called the meeting of military leadership to discuss a way to extend our relation. So, we will continue to supply.
Nigeria is in recession and the authorities here are mulling the closure of some embassies abroad, including Nigerian Mission in Kyiev, are you comfortable with this?
From the Ukrainian point of view, the level of development of Ukrainian-Nigerian relations in the political, trade and economic, educational, military-technical and other spheres is rather high and has a great potential, which needs to be realized, including diplomacy. While remaining faithful to the spirit of friendship and cooperation traditionally inherent in relations between our two countries, we hope that the Nigerian side will review this decision. In our view, the potential of bilateral relations in different area is far from being exhausted. Industrial and technological capabilities and achievements of Ukraine can be successfully used for realization of large-scale projects in Nigeria in the energy sector, infrastructure, and industry. Ukraine is interested in further participation of its companies in the Ajaokuta steel plant reconstruction and in several other economic projects. We need to apply more efforts to create the legal base of bilateral relations. The agreements on promotion and reciprocal protection of investments and on the establishment of intergovernmental joint commission for trade and economic cooperation are almost ready for signing. We would be glad to welcome a high-level Nigerian delegation in Ukraine in 2017. Such visit will provide a good opportunity, not only to sign these important agreements, but also to discuss the prospects of our bilateral cooperation in different areas.
We are satisfied with the present state of cooperation with Nigeria in the area of education and we are ready to further develop mutually beneficial contacts in this area. Thousands of Nigerian students graduated from Ukrainian universities and became prominent specialists in their branches of knowledge – first of all medicine, ICT technology and the oil and gas industry. The professionalism of the medical specialists who got their education in Ukraine is recognized all over the world. Lots of them work abroad but majority return to their fatherland and are very helpful there. Today about 4,000 students from Nigeria are studying in Ukrainian universities. And not to be indifferent to their stay in Ukraine, we have to mind that the closure of the Nigerian Embassy in Kyiev could damage the mechanism of protecting their rights and interests in Ukraine. In our opinion, finalization and signing of the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the field of education would provide more opportunity to bring people of our countries much closer. This is a task for diplomatic missions of both countries.
As I told the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Geoffry Onyeama, we talked about state and perspective of our relation and I asked him to try to review the intention to close the Mission in Kyiev because it is a very important mission abroad and for Nigeria, which is a very influential country, it should have Embassy in Ukraine because it is one of the biggest European countries and we need to increase our cooperation in different areas. So, we hope that the Nigerian government will review its decision and maintain the Nigerian diplomatic mission in Kyiev.
Do you think Russia might be putting some pressure on the Nigerian Government to close your Embassy while keeping the Mission in Russia?
I don’t have such evidence about Russia putting pressure on Nigeria. Nigeria is an independent and sovereign country and it takes decisions by itself.
Between last year and now, what is the number of Nigerians that have sought visa to study in Ukraine. Can undergraduates work in your country?
It is increasing when compared with the previous year. Last year, we recorded about 70 per cent increase in the number of candidates applying to study in Ukraine. This year, the number has increased. It is increasing with every passing year. The major areas of study in Ukraine are medicine, IT and engineering and thousands who have graduated have become specialists in the country. On the issue of work permit during study, I don’t have such information. I don’t have any information about under-graduates working while studying in the country.
How do you look at the future of relationship between Nigeria and Ukraine?
I envisage a very bright future. There is a very big potential that we should explore. Ours is to find ways to explore this potential. First of all, we need to extend our legal ground to sign couple of agreements that are very essential in boosting our cooperation. As I said earlier, there are agreements on military cooperation, education promotion and exchange, economy and protection of investment. Also, we are working to promote a joint inter-governmental commission and to establish a commission on trade and cooperation. So, signing these agreements will provide strong impetus for developing our cooperation in future. We are asking the Nigerian side to speed up so we can sign the agreements. Some of the benefits of the agreement on education include special agreement on receiving Nigerian students in Ukraine.
Those that go to study medicine in Ukraine do well on their return but there are no adequate medical equipment, has your country thought of exploring that area of investment?
We produce but not all because we also import medical equipment.
For a prospective visa applicant, tell us about your visa regime?
Our visa procedure is very transparent, very open. Intending travelers should visit our website to see the requirements. First, you have to register online to make appointment for interview. We welcome students, businessmen, the military, everybody.
There are Ukrainians in Nigeria, what work do they do here?
They participate in one of the famous projects – Ajaokuta Steel Mill. The company was designed, constructed and built by Ukrainian engineers. It is built during the Soviet Union era and it was designed in Ukraine. About last year, we had a visitor from Ukraine from a Ukrainian company seeking to participate in the renovation of Ajaokuta. We had meetings with the Agency on privatization, even now; there are still some people from Ukraine participating in the renovation of the steel mill. There are also some Ukrainian specialists participating in road construction in Plateau. It is not Ukrainian company but the engineers are from Ukraine working in Plateau State.
Some Nigerians want to play football in Ukraine. Tell us about their chances?
Of course there is hope for them if they have good performance and high level of technique. It is not only in Ukraine that Nigerians play. They are in many European countries.
Is there language barrier in studying in Ukraine?
We have two programmes – first one has to do with teaching foreign students Ukrainian language. In over two years that I have been here, I don’t have any negative impression about Nigerians studying in Ukraine. They are hard working students, performing very well.
You must have seen the ethnic tensions here, what is your advice to Nigerians?
A united country is a strong country. This is my message. Only a united Nigeria can overcome all challenges. You may face challenges – economic, insurgency and others but when you are united, you will solve the problems. I don’t think it is good to break into fragments. Only a united country has a future.
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