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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 15:19 GMT
Ukraine trims privatisation check
Ukraine is to review "dozens" of state asset sales as the country's new administration tackles corruption.

The figure announced by President Viktor Yushchenko is less than the 3,000 cases mentioned last week, but will cover many of the biggest deals.

Ukraine recently ousted long-serving leader Leonid Kuchma and has said it wants closer European Union links.

In a separate statement, the EU said that the US should back Ukraine's entry into the World Trade Organisation.

The comments came as Viktor Yushchenko prepared to head to Brussels to meet with US President George W Bush and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) leaders.

He is the only non-Nato member leader invited to attend the summit.

Tight focus

Mr Yushchenko recently defeated Moscow-backed presidential candidate and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych at the polls, and has made no secret of his wish to fight corruption and make Ukraine more transparent.

We have trust in this business and want to defend it by law
Ukraine president Viktor Yushchenko

Earlier this month, new Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said as many as 3,000 firms may have their privatisations put under the spotlight.

Her comments raised concerns among a number of investors and Mr Yushchenko was seen on Monday as trying to soothe their frayed nerves.

"We acknowledge that business in Ukraine is now shaped and 98% of privatisations were carried out according to the law," Mr Yushchenko said on Monday.

"We have trust in this business and want to defend it by law," he continued, adding that any review would focus on "dozens of companies, not hundreds or thousands".

He cited last year's sale of Ukrainian steel producer Krivorizhstal as one that had raised concerns.

It was sold in June 2004 to a consortium that included Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former-President Kuchma, and Rinat Akhmetov, the country's richest man, for $800m (424m) - despite other higher offers.

Trade

Vice-Prime Minister Oleg Rybachuk called on the EU to recognise the steps that Ukraine was taking, fearing that should the country not be rewarded for its efforts there may be a backlash against closer relations with Brussels.

He said that while he understood that Ukraine was not ready for EU membership, the country needed to see progress on topics such as trade and visa requirements.

"We deserve an honest response," Mr Rybachuk told the Associated Press in an interview. "We understand the difficulties. We refuse to understand double standards."

Ukraine may find it has a sympathetic ear in Brussels

"The EU has reiterated that we support (Ukraine's) fast accession to the WTO and if possible we would like that to happen some time during the year," said Claude Veron-Reville, a spokesman for EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

"We have said as much to the Americans. We feel that it is important for us all to pull together for Ukraine to be allowed into the WTO.

Mr Yushchenko was careful not to turn his back on Russia, which borders the country to the east, saying it was important to maintain 'pragmatic' ties with Moscow.

"Russia is Ukraine's eternal strategic partner," Mr Yushchenko said.


SEE ALSO:
Ukraine steel sell-off 'illegal'
17 Feb 05 |  Business
Ukraine revisits state sell-offs
16 Feb 05 |  Business
Ukraine to annul steel firm sale
07 Feb 05 |  Business
Profile: Viktor Yushchenko
23 Jan 05 |  Europe
A nasty business in Ukraine
16 Jun 04 |  Business


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