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Dmytro Kuleba, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Dmytro Kuleba, Foreign Minister of Ukraine, is currently on a visit to the UAE. He was welcomed by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation . They discussed recent accomplishment and finalised upcoming plans to boost ties between the UAE and Ukraine.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Dmytro praised the UAE government, which provided competent UAE officials to release four Ukraine citizens detained from captivity by illegal paramilitaries in Libya, as well as the humanitarian aid sent by Abu Dhabi through a special Etihad flight to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ukrainian Minister shared the successful developments set forth by the previous efforts between the nations with supply importation of the UAE from Ukraine, and cooperation on space exploration that has significantly strengthen the primary agenda of the visit.

Excerpts from the interview:

Gulf News: this is your first visit to the region as Foreign Minister. Why did you decide to come to the UAE and how do you see the current state of Ukraine-UAE relations?

Dmytro Kuleba: The modern UAE, envisioned by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is truly a remarkable country built on the principles of continuous progress, tolerance, optimism and hope. The current leadership of the UAE followed his ideas and transformed a barren land into the magnificent oasis that for almost half a century has been carrying a mission of a regional leader, influential economic powerhouse and a beacon of innovations for the whole world.

Today, the UAE is among the ten most influential global economies in the world. The success of the Emirates in its all-round development in a relatively short historical period of time is very impressive and evokes sincere admiration and delight. We have a lot to learn from the UAE, primarily in the effective use of available resources to ensure the comprehensive development of the country. We consider the UAE our close and reliable partner and attach great importance to the boosting of mutually beneficial cooperation in all areas of common interest. Development of comprehensive cooperation with the UAE is one of the top priorities of the Ukrainian foreign policy in the region of Arabian Peninsula.

Our relationship has been thoroughly tested throughout the shared bilateral history. In particular, in January 2018, in cooperation with the competent authorities of the UAE, four citizens of Ukraine forcibly detained in Libya by illegal paramilitaries were released from captivity.

The latest challenge — spread of the coronavirus pandemic — has shown that Ukrainian-Emirati relations have not lost their strength. The Emirates became one of the first countries to respond quickly to Ukraine’s call for help in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. On April 10, 2020, a special flight of the Etihad Airways delivered 11 tonnes of Emirati humanitarian aid to Ukraine. We are very grateful to the UAE for this assistance.

The dynamics of interaction between our countries remains strong even under the current challenging circumstances caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. Today we are satisfied with the high level of our relations. Indeed, cooperation is actively developing in various fields where our friendly countries have a common interest.

At the same time, I would like to note that we have a huge untapped potential in our relationship. Therefore, I came on a visit to the Emirates to discuss the possibilities of strengthening our cooperation in promising areas, especially in agriculture, food security, investment and to make full use of the existing opportunities of our countries to achieve this end.

We will definitely continue the practice of exchanging high-level visits as a reliable and effective mechanism for the development of our bilateral political and economic dialogue.

We also pay great attention to expanding the legal framework of our relations, signing new agreements that will support our business, open new horizons of cooperation and identify new ways of our joint efforts. In particular, in the framework of my visit we have signed two agreements that will facilitate our further bilateral interaction with the UAE in trade and economic sphere.

Currently, the legal basis of the Ukraine-UAE relations consists of more than 30 bilateral documents. We are working on preparing for the signing in the nearest future bilateral agreements on the recognition and exchange of driver’s licences, on cooperation in the field of industrial investment, intellectual property, tourism, as well as in the fight against terrorism.

I also would like to note our active cooperation within the framework of international organisations, where we exchange mutual support of our countries in elections to the governing structures of various international bodies.

We very much appreciate that the UAE avoids any actions that could be interpreted as recognition of changes in the status of the temporarily occupied territories of Crimea, certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including possible contacts with representatives of the Russian occupation administration.

Our latest initiative — aimed to coordinate the international response to all threats deriving from Russian occupation of Crimea — is the establishing of the Crimean platform. Its ultimate goal is to achieve the eventual de-occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula. The inaugural Summit of the Crimean Platform is to be held in Kiev in 2021. We hope that the UAE will be able to join the Platform’s activities in the future.

President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in his recent address on occasion of the 49th Anniversary of the country set a list of priorities for the future: government development, scientific research, advanced technology, IT and digital economy. We deeply share these ideas, and I think we can bring further context to our bilateral interaction.

What about economic ties?

The Emirates has been identified as Top 10 most desirable markets for Ukrainian exporters, according to the Exporters and Investors Council under the umbrella of the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine.

Since 2017, we have been experiencing permanent growth of bilateral trade. For the first time in the last 10 years, the volume of trade in goods and services between Ukraine and the UAE crossed the billion mark and in 2019 amounted to $1.65 billion (Dh6.06 billion). Despite a slight slowdown due to COVID-19, we have managed to keep a positive trend in bilateral trade and I hope that this year we will be able to achieve comparable to 2019 indicators of our trade.

I would like to recollect once again the recent address of Sheikh Khalifa, who outlined the food security as one of the focus areas of national development. In this regard, we welcome the latest UAE initiative on signing Memorandum of understanding concerning food security and are ready to broaden our cooperation in this sphere. As it is well known, Ukraine is one of the most important players in the global food security system. At a time when the world is countering the coronavirus pandemic, the Government of Ukraine clearly understands the importance of ensuring food security on the international level.

Ukraine, as a reliable trade partner and top exporter of agricultural products, makes every effort to ensure uninterrupted supplies of agriculture and food products to foreign markets, including the UAE.

I would like to note that the Emirates is one of the largest importers of Ukrainian agricultural and food products in the Middle East and North Africa region. Today more than 55 per cent of Ukrainian export to the UAE consists of agricultural products.

We are ready to take the most active part in ensuring the food security of the UAE and increase the supply of high quality and affordable agricultural products to the Emirates market. Ukraine has all the necessary capacities for this.

Today together with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, we have set a number of ambitious goals to strengthen our cooperation in trade and economic sphere. I take them with me to Kiev and it will be an extremely demanding but interesting and rewarding homework. I hope that next year we will hold a regular meeting of our Joint Intergovernmental Commission on trade and economic cooperation, during which we will have the opportunity to analyse the results of our work and identify new priorities for the future.

I am confident that together with our Emirati counterparts we will be able to turn our cooperation in the field of trade and food security into a success story.

Are there any specific areas of cooperation?

We have experience of successful cooperation with the UAE in the field of space exploration. In particular, Ukraine was directly involved in launching the UAE’s DubaySat-1 and DubaySat-2 communication satellites. The Ukraine-UAE interaction in space exploration is steadily growing year by year. In 2017, our countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the field of space research. In 2019, we launched the Ukrainian-Emirati Working Group on Space Research and held its first meeting.

Given the huge industrial and scientific potential of Ukraine, we have significant prospects for the development of bilateral dialogue in the field of satellite technologies, in particular in creating space autonomous systems.

Recently Ukraine became the ninth country after the UAE to join the NASA’s ‘Artemis’ programme, aiming at international cooperation in research of the Moon, Mars, comets and asteroids. In my opinion, it opens up new opportunities and horizons for cooperation between Ukraine and the UAE in peaceful use and exploration of outer space. We see that in recent years the UAE has taken ambitious and “accelerated steps” in the field of nuclear energy by joining the club of states with a peaceful nuclear programme.

Ukraine operates 15 nuclear reactors and has a significant experience in this sphere. We have strong and effective partnership with the IAEA on all spectre of nuclear issues and are open for mutually beneficial cooperation with the UAE in this area.

UAE’s successes in the renewable energy sector makes the Emirates our desirable partner in this field. Ukraine has significant renewable energy sources potential in all its regions, including small hydropower plants, solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy. Given a massive potential of Ukraine in this sphere, we will seek for new formats of cooperation with the UAE both at bilateral level and within International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The priority areas of cooperation for us are the energy efficiency and “clean technologies”.

Among other spheres where we can find common interests are the IT technologies, biotechnology, medicine, aviation, shipbuilding, chemical and mining industries etc.

Are there any joint projects and cooperation in the area of investment?

The Government of Ukraine is taking comprehensive and consistent measures to improve the investment climate and create the most favourable conditions for foreign investors. This is an unconditional priority in the activities of our government.

As a part of Ukrainian government’s efforts to improve the investment climate in the country, it is expected that the legislation package on the state support for projects with significant investments called “investment nanny” will be adopted soon.

In particular, the investment projects worth more than 30 million euros (the so-called strategic investors) can count on special conditions from the state. The strategic investors may receive the very attractive incentives from the state. I would like to name some of them:

* Unique tax and customs benefits (in particular, abolition of VAT and customs duties on imports of equipment that will be involved in the investment project. A special period of import of equipment without payment of customs duties and VAT will be valid from 1 January 2021 to 1 January 2035);

* Priority right to land, reduced land tax rate (including completely exempting investors from paying land tax);

* A very interesting one is a personal manager at the governmental level, whose task is to assist in overcoming the Ukrainian bureaucracy, support in dealing with the paper work and implementation of the investment project;

* In addition, the investors will be exempted from income tax.

So as you can see, Ukraine takes all necessary measures in order to facilitate business activities for foreign investors. We believe that the current investment environment in Ukraine is one of the best in Eastern Europe.

According to this year’s ‘Doing Business’ Report, Ukraine has moved up on seven positions since its last edition. I hope the UAE investors will be interested to discover investment potential of Ukraine. In particular, we are interested in joint implementation of projects in the agriculture, infrastructure, housing construction, tourism, energy and IT spheres. We are also ready to offer the UAE investors to consider the participation in the privatisation of the leading Ukrainian state-owned enterprises. The most promising among them are those specialising in the fields of agriculture, energy, mining, chemical and infrastructure.

Due to the UAE’s significant financial resources and Ukraine’s agricultural, industrial as well as technological potential, one of the promising areas of cooperation in the investment sphere is the implementation of joint projects in other countries and regions, in particular, in Africa.

As a striking example of successful cooperation between Ukraine and the UAE in the investment area, I would like to mention DP World’s activities in the Ukrainian ports. Since 2016, P&O Maritime, which is owned by DP World, has concluded a number of agreements on the development of Ukraine’s port infrastructure. Starting from 2018, P&O Maritime provides towing services in three Ukrainian Pivdennyi, Chornomorsk and Odesa ports. In February 2020, DP World made the largest investment in Ukraine’s infrastructure industry — the Dubai port operator acquired a 51 per cent stake in the TIS container terminal located in the port of Pivdennyi in the Odessa region.

Some other Emirati investors expressed their interest in a number of projects in Ukraine. In this regard, I would like to emphasise once again that Ukraine is ready to assist the Emirati business in the development of mutually beneficial investment cooperation and create the most favourable conditions for the investors, as well as guarantee reliable protection of their investments.

Will Ukraine take part in Expo 2020 in Dubai next year?

Yes, definitely. Ukraine is making thorough preparations and planning to be represented at the Dubai Expo 2020 at a high level in spite of the decision to postpone the planned dates.

I believe that Expo 2020 will be the major international event in the modern history of the UAE and our participation will strengthen and further expand the Ukrainian-Emirati ties in the cultural, economic, scientific and technological areas.

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Ukraine is making thorough preparations and planning to be represented at the Dubai Expo 2020, the minister said. Image Credit: Supplied

Could you, please elaborate on the cultural and humanitarian cooperation between Ukraine and the UAE?

Ukraine regularly takes part in different art exhibitions (Dubai Art, Dubai World Art, Abu Dhabi Art), film festivals (Dubai film festival), book fairs (Abu Dhabi book fair), cultural festivals (Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival, Sharjah Heritage Days) etc, organised in the UAE.

Over the past few years, Ukrainian-Emirati cultural and humanitarian cooperation has noticeably intensified. The signing of a bilateral agreement on cooperation in the field of culture in 2017 opened new opportunities for our renowned and perspective artists.

In particular, last year the famous Ukrainian ballet troupe and orchestra of the Taras Shevchenko National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre presented the Ukrainian “Orpheus and Eurydice forever” rock opera and Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” ballet on the stage of the Dubai Opera. This performance had a great success and became a unique event and a real feast for ballet and opera lovers.

What about Ukrainian community? How many Ukrainians live in the UAE?

Around 12,000 Ukrainians currently live and work in the UAE and their number is increasing. Many of them work in the financial, trade, hospitality, medical, educational areas or have their own businesses in the UAE.

In recent years, the Ukrainian community has become more cohesive and active. For example, a Ukrainian Business Council was set up in the UAE a few years ago. The purpose of the Council is to promote the protection and support of Ukrainian companies and businesses operating in the UAE. In 2016 and 2019, the Ukrainian “Sofia” and “Dyvosvit” Friday schools began their activities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively.

In January 2018, a visa-free regime was established between our countries. This extremely important event in bilateral relations has led to a significant increase in tourist flow, as well as in the number of flights between Ukraine and the UAE. Last year more than 250,000 Ukrainian citizens visited the UAE.

Unfortunately, this year COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected the tourism sector. However, the recent resumption of regular flights and visa-free regime between our countries undoubtedly contributes to the development of bilateral trade, business, interpersonal and humanitarian relations.

By the way, I want to give you an interesting fact that few people know about, even among football fans. In 1990, the world-famous Ukrainian football coach Valery Lobanovsky accepted an offer to become the national coach of the UAE national team. Coaching the Emirati football team in 1990-1992, V. Lobanovsky took 4th place in the Asian Cup — the best result in the history of the Emirates football team.