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Beginning of Meeting with Heads of Russian and Ukrainian Border Regions

April 21, 2010, Ukraine, Kharkov

President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych: Mr President, colleagues, friends,

I am very happy to be at this table with my old friends, Russian governors. We have lived through various periods, but we always found opportunities to resolve issues together. Mr President, I recall those times with pleasure. I have said before and want to say again that this long pause in relations has, in a way, been beneficial to all of us, because now, we are going through a very difficult economic period. I think that our interregional integration, the work that can be organised by the governors, will certainly be beneficial to Russia, Ukraine, and our peoples. So I would like to welcome everyone to the city of Kharkov, where we have met before with nearly all of today’s participants present.

They say that all good things return one day. At that time we outlined an array of very interesting programmes, and overall, they fit organically into the development policies of both Russia and Ukraine’s regions. These were not just economic matters, but also serious environmental projects: for example, the environmental project in the North (Severny) Donets river basin, which begins in Russia’s Belgorod region and incidentally, also ends in Russia, in

Rostov region, but passes through Ukraine’s Kharkov, Donetsk, and Lugansk regions. And today, this environmental project is no less urgent. Indeed, we have become even more keenly aware of the problems related to the ecology of these regions: the lack of high-quality drinking water, pollution, etc. Thus, today, we need to literally revive these projects and, as they say, rise from the ashes.

I think that interregional near-border cooperation today requires both sides to look at concrete projects and approve them on an interstate level. Mr President, I would like to make the suggestion that you and I include these matters into our agendas and begin systemically addressing them at a cabinet level, combining them with the regions’ programmes. Clearly, this requires a great deal of attention, because the borders that have separated Ukraine and Russia have not eliminated the problems in the border areas, but rather augmented them. We need to make decisions, because we are out of time – we have wasted too much of that.

Today, we have a good foundation for developing our interstate relations – first and foremost, this is the will of our peoples. I know that opinion surveys carried our both in Ukraine and Russia show that most people in our countries very much want us to begin intensively developing trade and economic cooperation, as well as humanitarian relations. Naturally, this kind of development will be favourable to both sides.

True, many questions have accumulated over time: for example, customs clearance at border-crossing points that use complicated procedures on both sides. I would like to look into these issues as well, so that our customs officers can make joint suggestions on how to simplify these procedures.

Naturally, migration-related issues are limited by various laws, but I would like to also suggest that we jointly look into and simplify our migration mechanisms; I think making them simpler would be the right thing to do.

I have many specific suggestions, as do our colleagues, but I would like to propose that our commissions revise these issues by May 17–18, prior to your official visit to Ukraine. This way, we won’t need to discuss them today, but rather be ready to come up with some concrete decisions on those dates. My suggestion is as follows: if there are some really pressing issues, both sides can have a preliminary review of them today; otherwise, the commission will intensify its work, because there is very little time before your visit, and naturally, we would like that visit to be productive.

I am very happy to meet with you again and to see our relations enter a new stage. Thank you.

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Mr President, colleagues,

Indeed, we also feel that this is a long-awaited meeting. The last time I was at a similar meeting, it was in Kiev, rather than Kharkov. By the way, you participated in that meeting as Prime Minister, almost six years ago. This does not mean that near-border cooperation has ceased since then. On the contrary, even during the crisis year of 2009, 80 percent of our turnover originated from 11 regions – first and foremost, near-border regions. And so, I agree with you fully here that this form of dialogue is absolutely imperative — we just need to make it permanent and focus the presidents’ attention on it instead of simply leaving it at the level of regional contacts. Naturally, this regional dialogue, these contacts between regions are crucial, but the presidents’ attention and ongoing coordination by our governments are very important. This way, the issues that pile up in interregional cooperation area will be resolved quickly, or at least, fairly easily.

And issues of this nature have indeed accumulated, I agree with you entirely. These include matters related to creating normal, favourable conditions for registering business entities, their subsequent operation, and the promotion of major long-term projects which, unfortunately, there have been almost none of in recent years. In addition, we need to promote the development of small and medium-sized businesses, which is particularly important for interregional cooperation. And naturally, infrastructure is also important – including with regard to customs activities, customs procedures, near-border infrastructure, and human migration, as well as transport and freight border crossings. Thus, I fully agree that all of these questions should be kept in view by relevant departments and our cabinets, and our colleagues in the regions must work on these matters. I also support the idea of returning to this discussion during my state visit in May.

But it is true that we can address the most sensitive of these issues today; we can listen to what the heads of near-border regions have to say on this since they are particularly sensitive to changes in customs legislation – all the more so since we have gained some good experience from earlier times, which we should not forget. Unfortunately, we stopped having regular meetings, but nevertheless, contacts have continued. Now, our colleagues can tell us about the problems that have accumulated over time.

We must implement modern forms and models of cooperation. In recent years, cooperation has nevertheless existed in various forms; so-called Euro-regions were created, such as the Slobozhanshchina, Yaroslavna, and Dnepr, which included the corresponding regions and territories in Russia and Ukraine. Our colleagues were engaged in trade, environment, and cattle breeding. Overall, we have certain results and certain developments that should not be ignored.

There is also the humanitarian sector, which is extremely important and which determines our level of cooperation. The celebration [of the 65th anniversary of Victory in World War II] is coming up very soon. I hope that our regions – the ones that border one another – will provide opportunities for our veterans to visit battle sites and organise some joint events, because this is something that unites us.

We have the opportunity to advance our cooperation in education. I feel that this, too, is an important area and we should come back to it.

The environment is clearly an important issue – this includes programmes to protect the North Donets river water use. We need to think about how to organise this work and bring it to a modern level that corresponds to the new nature of our relations.

To conclude, what is most important is that we should not have any pauses in our relations, and the central authorities should be involved. I see this as the point of departure. We will also give instructions to our ministries as we agreed, and we can return to this matter within the framework of our intergovernmental commission, which is currently preparing for my visit to Kiev. Thank you.

April 21, 2010, Ukraine, Kharkov