Prime minister unsure about Ukraine’s reliability

PRIME Minister Robert Fico has said he is concerned over whether Ukraine is a reliable partner when it comes to fulfilling its obligations.

PRIME Minister Robert Fico has said he is concerned over whether Ukraine is a reliable partner when it comes to fulfilling its obligations.

Speaking to a press conference following an extraordinary session of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on March 10, Fico said the Slovak government cannot force the commercial company Eustream to invest €20 million into gas shipping infrastructure because of the potential scenario where Slovakia starts shipping gas to Ukraine, but Kiev fails to pay for it. The world cannot function like this, Fico opined as reported by the SITA newswire.

Ukraine's EU prospects are welcome and, as he noted, they were provided when Ukraine was offered the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement, but this does not mean that the wallets and budgets of EU states will settle the problems that Ukraine is now facing, Fico said.

The opposition in parliament originally requested an unscheduled parliamentary session over Ukraine. The parties however have not yet handed over the required number of signatures to convene the meeting. Hence, Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška decided to convene the committee.

For a few months, Slovakia and Ukraine have been engaged in talks about a reverse gas flow from the west to the east. A Memorandum of Understanding was to have been signed but the Ukrainian partners failed to sign it, according to the prime minister.

"I have asked Ukraine's prime minister whether he could guarantee that those talks would continue,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA. “He said that they were reshuffling the management of the operators in Ukraine and that those talks were expected to continue.”

Handling the technical aspect of the reverse flow will take at least nine months. Fico declared his readiness to continue the reverse gas flow talks but stressed that Slovakia wants guarantees from the Ukrainian government that Kiev will fulfil its commercial obligations after it gets the gas.

The prime minister is worried that Ukraine associates European prospects mainly with finances. In his words, some politicians think that the EU will solve Ukraine's problems with Russia. Fico pointed out that loans for Ukraine would be strictly conditioned by reforms.

Slovakia cannot respect the results of the upcoming referendum in Ukraine scheduled for March 16, Fico said at the session, as reported by the TASR newswire.

Fico added that EU leaders agreed, while convening at a summit in Brussels last week, that the vote runs counter to the country's constitution.

"That's the official stance of the European Council," said Fico, as quoted by TASR, pointing to an agreement on the issue between EU countries present at the session.

Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák said that the referendum will change things greatly for the worse. "There have been intensive diplomatic efforts to come up with a solution to this," said Lajčák, as quoted by TASR. He went on to caution that the vote on Crimea joining Russia would significantly complicate efforts to overcome the crisis.

The committee heard Lajčák say that the Slovak government had to mobilise all capacities to help Ukraine, organise Slovak defence and security capacities and consult with partners on how to resolve the situation. Lajčák noted that Slovakia sent two tonnes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák sees the greatest risk lying in the state of Ukrainian security forces at the borders. Slovakia has deployed 800 border police officers at the Slovak-Ukrainian border. Another threat, in Kaliňák's opinion, is a relatively high number of third-country nationals in Ukraine. The minister estimated their number in the thousands, SITA wrote.

Committee member Mikuláš Dzurinda believes that the prime minister is relativizing the problem in Ukraine. In his view, the Slovak government should clearly call the problem an act of aggression. He thinks that Fico is also relativizing the reverse gas flow to Ukraine. Dzurinda drew attention to several risks, like further escalation of tension and the potential economic collapse of Slovakia’s eastern neighbour.

Source: SITA, TASR

Compiled by Michaela Terenzani from press reports.
The Slovak Spectator cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information
presented in its Flash News postings.

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