When presenting his credentials in 2008, Leigh Turner, the UK Ambassador to Ukraine, declared: “What happens here is of immense significance for the UK, for Europe and for the world.”
Ukraine is important, strategically, economically and, crucially, as a source of future agricultural produce – it has 25 per cent of the arable land in Europe and 33 per cent of the black earth in the world. It is the largest country wholly in Europe and borders four EU member states. It is also the most democratic country in the Commonwealth of Independent States, having held four free and fair national elections since 2004.
Ukraine’s population of 45 million people is a rapidly growing market for foreign countries: UK-based companies exported £545 million of goods and services there in 2009 and have invested $2.376 billion (£1.55 billion) there since 1992.
The UK is the sixth largest foreign investor in Ukraine. The Ambassador says: “Ukraine is a valued friend and partner. We co-operate extensively and productively in international organisations such as the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe.”
He is candid about problems, in particular a reported lack of independence of the courts. Nevertheless he has an abiding love of Ukraine and remains confident about the future.
He says: “We believe that if we can get the EU-Ukraine association agreement and the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, this will create a strong momentum for reforms. I hope that will in turn generate pressure to ensure that the courts are more independent, which will encourage more foreign investment.”
In partnership with Poland, hosting the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship is an immense opportunity for the nation, but EU accession is what will complete the journey.
The British Council opened in Ukraine in 1992, and now operates centres in Kyiv, Odessa, Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv. Bate C. Toms, chairman, roundly echoes the Ambassadors’s positivity, especially in terms of Ukraine’s agricultural vitality and importance.
“Ukraine can easily increase its food production four-fold to become the world’s leading producer,” he says.
He cautions that if the UK wants to wield real influence in a world where food, rather than oil and gas, is to be of paramount importance, continued investment in – and dialogue with – Ukraine is of utmost importance for this and future generations.