In March, we will be having the joint commission for commerce and economic cooperation held between Iran and Ukraine and both countries are trying to take bigger steps in developing their economic relations. In this regard, in addition to planning for the visit of the Ukrainian President to Iran, the Ambassador of Ukraine is making progress in preparing governmental cooperation documents and a strategic pathway for the two countries at his embassy in Iran. Recognizing the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties and studying the economic and touristic ties between the two countries, we carried out an interview with the Ambassador of Ukraine which is as follows.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Sergei Burdyliak, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Iran
What measures have been considered for extending political and economic relations between Iran and Ukraine in 2017?
The bilateral relations will be teeming with a broad spectrum of interesting and fruitful happenings. 2016 is believed to be a transition to beyond a period of recession and the year to come shall be the time when we make the most of last year’s achievements and move forward.
We are after ambitious goals. For instance, last week there was a meeting of the joint transport and transit commission, in two weeks, the session of the joint commission for energy and in March, we are going to hold the joint commission for commerce and economic cooperation between the two countries.
In the second quarter of 2017, we are eagerly expecting Mr. Zarif’s visit to Ukraine as to conduct joint political consultations and after that, we will be looking forward to an Iranian parliamentary delegation headed by the Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, Mr. Larijani coming to Ukraine. Ukraine’s Speaker of Parliament shall respond to this visit and travel to Iran, too. All these visits are conducive to laying the groundwork for the trip of the President of Ukraine to Iran.
Is there a specific date for the visit of Ukraine’s President to Iran?
Given that there has not been any visit at this level in the past 15 years between the two countries, we should make appropriate preparations in order for the President of Ukraine to visit Iran. In this regard, we are drafting a number of significant documents of governmental cooperation as well as preparing the road map of strategic bilateral relations for a long-term period.
If both sides do their jobs in time, we are hopeful that the President of Ukraine will have visited Iran before the end of 2017.
How far will the extension of the economic ties between the two countries be based on such anticipations?
At the moment, most of our economic relations are in the form of financial operations and a large proportion of the trades between Iran and Ukraine is carried out via a third-party country.
The present condition indicates a strange situation, because in accordance with latest statistical dates, the bilateral trades have grew up by 14%, and we have information that the commercial ties between Iran and Ukraine have ascended much more, esp. in agriculture. The reason is although Ukraine’s bilateral trade has soared with countries such as Hong Kong, the UAE and Turkey, we know a major part of it is related to indirect trades with Iran.
We also have information that Ukraine’s agriculture giants are doing business with Iran through countries like Switzerland and the UAE.
Why aren’t the trades between Iran and Ukraine carried out directly?
The main problem concerns the banking ties which I will elaborate on as the interview proceeds. For now, I intend to speak about the bilateral economic relations. Currently, we are interested in having joint production instead of financial gives and takes. We are cooperating with Iran in the fields of energy, machineries and agriculture.
The embassy and I are seriously engaged in renewing cooperation in aviation industries. On the day I put forth my credential to President Rouhani, I spoke of my dream and that my wish is to play a role in creating aviation industries in Iran.
I would like for a plane to be manufactured with the name of Iran written on it. Let’s not forget that aviation industry is in connection with many economic fields. It is my wish for Iranian and Ukrainian engineers to be in constant touch with one another in this area.
What consultations have been carried out in this regard?
Last year, we made proper arrangements for revitalizing the aviation collaborations and I believe things have gotten to a point where the factory built in Isfahan can start operation.
I had a number of meetings with high-ranking Iranian officials and saw the rays of hope in their eyes for renovating the aviation industries of Iran. But at the past few meetings, we conversed over old matters, while we must also take new economic subjects into consideration, for the world is on the verge of the 6th technological revolution and Ukraine is considered to be a pioneer in this field.
I have to stress that if we concentrate on tradition industries, then we will fall behind the rest of the world. At the moment, possessing creativity and information is more important than anything else. That is a unique opportunity for us to be prepared for the arrival of the global train of technology instead of merely expecting it.
There should be scientific exchanges between the two countries. Is there any specific plan for doing so?
Yes. We have particular steps to take in this area now and are preparing an agreement of cooperation in science and technology. I will explain now what I exactly mean when we speak of perspectives.
What I mean is that once the JCPOA was signed, it was agreed for some of the restrictions against Iran to be lifted in a period of 10 years. A 10-year period is a rather short time in history; so what will happen next? We have to do the planning in advance for when the restrictions are gone, not wait for it to pass and then start thinking about what we should do. In fact, during this 10-year span, we need to continue the previous works and then extend them more than before. Of course, in doing so, we need human resources, projects and joint scientific centers.
Your anticipations about the two countries’ relations come true once banking trades are carried out easily. How are the banking ties between the two countries now?
We arranged a meeting between the Deputy heads of the central banks of the two countries for the first time in December, 2016 and as a result, a few Iranian and Ukrainian banks voiced their interest in establishing SWIFTs as well as trading with LCs. The next step ought to be opening accounts and direct transactions of money.
This is going on much more difficultly than we expected. The banking system of Ukraine is, of course, very open and Ukrainian banks are linked to big global banks. Some of them did not like our enhancing our banking relations with Iran, because in that case, Ukrainian banks would become big rivals for large European banks.
We can see this in other similar areas, too. Some countries do not favor the development of Iran’s aviation industry. It is a matter of economic competition and you well know that “politics” is the intensified version of “economy”.
How effective can the new US policies after Trump assumed presidency be on Ukraine’s relations with Iran?
In his meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Mr. Rouhani stated that no third-party country would have an impact on the bilateral ties between Iran and Ukraine. We share this point of view in Ukraine, too.
We may not arrive at a conclusion about what is related to Mr. Trump’s management, but a famous Ukrainian saying says “It is the court that plays the King”. Therefore the interests of the people around Trump should be met, esp. the Vice President, Secretary of Defense and CIA Chief.
Your prediction is that the fine relation between Trump and Putin would grow darker?
Borjes is a popular writer among us. He has a story entitled “The Garden of Forking Paths“. In this story, a man enters the garden and circles around the labyrinthine paths of it; every path he opts to responds reversely and drives him to somewhere different from his expectation.
In my opinion, global politics is so similar to this garden and the labyrinth inside it, and so, it is not good to be predictive. My suggestion is that we meet in a hundred days from now and discuss the trend of things together.
The only thing I can guarantee is that in a hundred days, things will be very different from now. We are two big nations who care about each other and live in a world that constantly changes. Our nations come from a long history and have high intelligence.
The Russian news agency, Interfax, reported the discovery of a military shipment on a plane that was heading toward Iran at Zhuliani airport. Ukraine’s border guards stated that the plane contained components of Fagot anti-tank missiles. Would you please explain more about it?
The relations between the two countries are at a fine level. Presently, I have no authentic information to offer in this regard. Let’s wait for a report from Ukraine’s security services and then I can explain more. Sometimes, similar things happen, but I am sure this does not affect the level of our relations.
Is there military cooperation between Iran and Ukraine?
Currently, every cooperation between the two countries is within the framework of international obligations. But I would like to once again point out that we are looking for long-term collaborations. There will be a time when trades between the two countries shall face no restrictions and we should be looking forward to that day.
One of the areas that can contribute to the development of ties between the two countries is the enhancement of touristic relations. Last time we met, you underlined that you have plans for making visa issuance easier. Can you explain about your plans a little bit?
We have absolutely fine plans in this area. I wonder if you remember I promised you that we were going to have the meeting of the joint consular commission with Iran, which we accomplished. Now, what is under analysis is removing Iran from the blacklist. Ukrainian experts are following up on that. Everything is pretty serious and we are determined to change the existing situation.
Ukrainian airlines are considered to be inexpensive. Have you been trying to take effective measures for Iranian tourists to use this potential?
Everyone can come to the consular section and receive their visas. There are 7 flights between Iran and Ukraine each week. I, myself, like for the any monopoly to go away in this area, because my belief is that monopoly means corruption and in my opinion, everybody has the right to make a choice.
Do the Ukraine International Airlines have an office in Tehran?
We have three active airlines between the two countries. The Ukraine International Airlines have five flights a week and UM Air and Mahan Air, each has one flight to Ukraine. Last year, some of Ukraine’s business partners put us under pressure in order that Mahan Air would not fly to Ukraine. But that did not work and I want to make a reference to Mr. Rouhani’s words when he said that no third-party can have an impact on our bilateral ties. The Ukrainian side believes in that, too. These ties are like family relationships; they might not matter to anyone, but they do not belong to them, either.
What are your plans for enhancing the mutual understanding between the nations of Iran and Ukraine?
I want to emphasize that our two nations do not know each other very well. I penned an article about Iran which was widely reflected in the Ukrainian media. The title was “10 Reasons for Visiting and Falling in Love with Iran”. I am already writing my second article, entitled, “My Ways to Know the Iranian Culture”.
I have set one goal and with the help of the officials at the Iranian Embassy in Ukraine, I am trying to promote the position of this country in the minds of Ukrainians. We will do that the other way around, too.
Last year, for example, we spent a very hot summer in Iran. On my comings and goings inside the city, I noticed that people were waiting in queues near different embassies to get their visas, and some of them even got sick because of the hot weather. We had queues at our embassy, too. I returned to the embassy and invited all diplomats to go by the queues together and after 15 minutes, when I asked them how they felt, all of them said they were not good.
Then, I made a decision to let those waiting in visa lines inside to have a seat in the shade. We even provided drinking water for them. Our services were limited back then, but we made every endeavor to comfort the applicants. That was a risk on my part as the head of the Ukrainian Embassy in Iran, but when the security officials were informed about it, they did not give us any warning.
Iranians are treated well in Ukraine and I want your outlet to pay more attention to it, because this serves as a background to the bilateral ties and unpleasant occurrences are very numbered in this area. I need to mention that we intend to improve the circumstances even more.
Relocating the Ukrainian Embassy three times in three years seems a bit strange. You resided first in Velenjak, then in Vanak and now in Tajrish. Why is that?
You surely know that in 2014, a revolution took place in Ukraine and revolutions are usually followed by consequences, including the disappearance of a large amount of money from the country’s treasury. That is how our budget was cut in half and we were forced to look for a more affordable place. But things have looked up now. Our facilities have been improved and everything inside the embassy has been refurnished and reinstalled. If everything goes well, we can soon open the Cultural Center of the Ukrainian Embassy in Tehran. I hope, of course, the Cultural Center of Iran will be established in Ukraine, too.
I am very eager to invite the mayor of Kiev to Iran and we are interested in having a Ferdowsi Square in this city and you having a Taras Shevchenko Square in Tehran.
Many Iranians are fond of travelling, esp. during Nowrooz. Ukraine enjoys fine potentials such as inexpensive airlines and attractions. If Ukraine focuses more on lifting the visa issuance between the two countries, it can be host to a large number of Iranian tourists. What is your take on that?
The rules governing visas should change, since they do not respond to the current-level requirements.
I am a strong fan of easing visa issuance between Iran and Ukraine. I have informed all Iranian parties and Ukrainian officials at all levels about that. Everything we did last year is testament to the fact that our actions do speak louder than words.
Is there anything left for you to mention?
There is a proverb that reads “everything begins by taking a first step.” We took that step last year and now, we are on a path of fine, friendly relations between the two nations. We are hopeful that our relations will become so deep that its beauty could equal Iranian carpets.