Issue was the guest of Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Korsunsky at the embassy residence this month where we talked about political, economic and cultural aspects of relations between Ukraine and Turkey.
- Could you tell us briefly about yourself?
I was born in Kiev and I love the city. I am married and have two daughters. After graduating from the Faculty of Mathematics and Mechanics at KievNationalUniversity in 1984, completing my graduate study in hydro-mechanics, I worked for the Academy of Sciences and did my doctorate in applied mathematics. It was a long way from diplomacy but I was invited to work for the state after the declaration of Ukraine's independence in 1991. After working for three years at the State Committee of Science and Technology, I worked for the Ukrainian National Commission for UNESCO, the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel and the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States and now serve as the Ambassador of Ukraine to Turkey.
- Did you ever regret preferring diplomacy to science?
There are many differences between visiting a country as a tourist and living in that country. If you are able to understand the country, become part of its culture and share the same life with its people for a long time as a diplomat, then you can evaluate that country, its people and culture in a more realistic and healthy way. This is a great advantage for diplomats. I am very pleased to have chosen this profession but I am trying not to forget analytical abilities and knowledge that is still deep inside. As science is important in bilateral relations, my background as a scientist helps me in doing my job. The people I work with are pleased and surprised when they see that I understand the technical aspects of issues while talking about industry or the business world. Although I am now far away from science and scientific life, I have never regretted choosing diplomacy.
UKRAINIAN ROCKET TO TURKISH SATELLITE
- Could you please talk about economic, cultural and political relations between Turkey and Ukraine?
Turkey is an extremely important trading partner of Ukraine. According to recent data, our bilateral trade volume is around 6-7 billion dollars. Turkey is our second largest market for imports after Russia and it ranks ninth in our exports. In Ukraine, Turkish textiles, agricultural products, white goods and desserts are well known. Almost all sunflower seed oil and walnuts and a large number of metal and agricultural products in Turkey come from Ukraine. Turkey and Ukraine have held three meetings within the scope of the High Level Strategic Council with the participation of our President and the Turkish Prime Minister.
I would like to talk about Ukraine's great experience and knowledge in the aviation and space sectors that are an important part of our bilateral relations. In Ukraine we produce Antonov aircraft, the world's most reliable airfreight aircraft which also has the highest capacity. At the same time we are also producing medium-sized passenger aircraft. We are continuing our talks with Turkish partners about the production in Turkey of the AN 158 aircraft with the latest technologies. We are also in cooperation about launching Turkish satellites into space.
- What kinds of activities are you doing to promote Ukrainian culture?
The second Ukrainian Cultural Festival was hosted by AntalyaMunicipality. More than 100 artists participated in the festival last year. The world-renowned Pavlo Virsky National Academic Folk Dance Ensemble presented shows in Ankara and Eskişehir within the framework of Days of Culture of Ukraine. We organised Ukrainian artist Mykola Syadristy's micro-miniature exhibition in İstanbul. We participated in the traditionally organised Manisa Mesir Paste Festival and the Turkish Language Olympics. Our band, which came from the Crimea and represented Ukraine in the Turkvision Song Competition held in 2013, came second in the competition. In short, we are trying to promote our culture and art not only in a single city or region but all over Turkey.
- In which sector are the Ukrainian and Turkish mutual investments mostly concentrated?
I cannot say that Ukraine has a lot of investments in Turkey, but there are in total 350 registered companies in Turkey with Ukrainian participation. We can more talk about the direct investment in Ukraine from Turkey. In addition to Turkcell's major investment in Ukraine, there are Turkish companies operating in tourism, food, automobile spare parts, construction, transport and logistics sectors.
- What is the latest situation in Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations between Ukraine and Turkey?
We are hoping to complete the FTA meetings before President Abdullah Gül's forthcoming visit to our country in April. Agreement was reached with Turkey in all matters excluding agricultural matters. We are working on ensuring a healthy deal in matters that concern the agricultural sector which is a very important issue for us. We are expecting our trade volume to exceed $10 billion dollars within one year following the signing of an FTA. We anticipate that the level of bilateral trade would reach $20 billion dollars in the longer term.
THERE IS AN INCREASED CONFIDENCE IN TURKEY
- What would you advise Turkish businessmen who are interested in making investments in the Ukrainian market?
They shouldn't hesitate to invest in Ukraine. There are limitless opportunities available in transport and in particular the agricultural sector in Ukraine. Our discussions are continuing about increasing the number of sea-freight ferry services between Ukraine and Turkey. Your brand “Colins” has many stores in Ukraine and is doing a good job. There are no obstacles for other Turkish brands to make investments. There is a positive outlook towards Turkish culture, people and products in Ukraine. Ten years ago people in Ukraine were a little bit suspicious about Turkish companies, engineering and quality of goods. However, today they buy and use products produced by Turkish companies with great confidence. This trust in Turkey is the most important development for us.
OUR CITIZENS USE THEIR RIGHT TO PROTEST
- How do you assess the recent protests in Ukraine?
Some of our citizens protested against the decision made by our government to postpone the partnership agreement with the European Union that had been planned to be signed in November. Ukrainian citizens can use their protest rights in peaceful ways according to the constitution. Our government is preparing to meet again soon with European officials on this issue. These protests taking place within the framework of the laws of Ukraine are extremely important. Ukraine is, no doubt, a European country and is a part of Europe. Ukraine should establish and maintain very strong relations with Russia in the east, the European Union in the west and Turkey in the south.
WE DON’T WANT TO COMPARE EU AND RUSSIA
- What is your perspective about the Eurasian Union that is formed by Russian President Vladimir Putin?
I do not have very detailed information about this concept, but I don’t believe that the idea is to recreate the Soviet Union format. It can be an interesting idea if it is going to form a new union by bringing together countries close to each other in democratic, commercial and economic ways, like the European Union. Turkey has a 50-year history with the EU. These are open-ended topics that need to be discussed. It is very difficult for me to tell whether this is an alternative or not but Ukraine will evaluate all kinds of proposals. We don’t want to compare the EU with Russia. If we are to evaluate Ukraine in terms of history, traditions and geography, we should have good relations with both the EU and Russia. It is not easy to be a buffer area between Europe and Russia but we have been in this position for 1,000 years and now we are used to it (laughs). If there is too much pressure from those sides we will lean south (laughs).
TURKEY IS VERY IMPORTANT COUNTRY FOR US.
- How do you see Turkey's EU membership process?
European Union integration has provided many benefits to Turkey. There have been really positive changes in Turkish politics in the last 10 years. Of course, Turkey and the EU will decide on the timing of the EU accession process but this will be an important process both for Turkey and the EU. We have strong dialogue about these issues between Ukraine and Turkey. We can see and understand clearly what kinds of difficulties Turkey experiences during this process. We are aware of what we can do to overcome the problems by acting together with Turkey. While talking about these issues, I always mention and evaluate the issue of ‘South Vision’. Turkey is a country which we take as a certain example about how to continue our lives and overcome obstacles. I believe that the EU will also change during this process. I believe that Ukraine and Turkey will come up with a new formula to continue dialogue with the EU.
- How do you evaluate the situation in the Middle East and the war in Syria?
Developments in the Middle East are affecting us very badly in all areas. We have always supported ways to solve the conflicts and problems peacefully and democratically. One of the issues that really hurts us in the Middle East is the end of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the two-year ongoing war in Syria. The changing situation in Egypt, like it is in Libya, is very obtrusive. I find it very important for Turkey to have a constructive role in the solution of the problems in the Middle East. Our trade with Syria and Egypt was at a very good level before the beginning of these events. We had extensive oil and gas projects in Libya. These are big question marks today. We are in close and intensive dialogue with Turkey and together with Turkey we follow on these developments.
SOUTH STREAM PROJECT IS NONSENSE AND UNNECESSARY
- How do you interpret the energy policies in the region as an expert in energy? Why doesn’t Ukraine support the South Stream Pipeline Project?
Turkey's role in energy projects being carried out in the area is very important. The TANAP project is very important for Turkey because it will become a transit country with the shipments of natural gas. Ukraine is a transit country in the transport of Russian natural gas to Europe. We directly deliver about 100 billion cubic-meters of Russian natural gas through Ukrainian pipelines which have a capacity of 170 billion cubic-meters. Upon completion, the South Stream project will have a capacity of 60 billion cubic meters. I think this project is meaningless when there are 70 billion cubic meters of unused capacity in our gas pipelines. In addition, it is a dangerous project in terms of environmental safety, the lack of ecological surveys, the fact that the pipelines will be 2,000 meters under the sea and due to the project's high cost of 35 billion dollars. The Blue Stream Project is very short but the South Stream Project is a 900-kilometer underwater project. It is almost the same length as the North Stream Project but the depths of the pipes are different. There is no use in carrying out a project like the South Stream Project while it is possible to implement a project that would transport natural gas to Europe through Turkey from the Caspian region.
Let’s continue our conversation about social and cultural issues. What similarities do you observe between the two countries culturally?
There are a lot of words taken from Turkish in the Ukrainian language. The mace, which is the symbol of strong will and power in Ukraine, is known and used as an instrument of war in Turkey. The rapprochement of our cultures is one of the most noticeable improvements and it has progressed in a positive direction beginning from the Hürrem period until today. Our national Kozaks (Cossacks) are known in Turkey. Their cloths resembled those of Turkish Yeniçeri very much. The Ukrainian Cossacks also used tobacco and pipes like Turks. For example, the word ‘tütün’ is the same in Turkish and Ukrainian just like thousands of other words.
Top of Form 1I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT A GERMAN ACTRESS ACTING IN THE ROLE OF HURREM SULTAN
- Hürrem Sultan in the series ‘Magnificent Century’ is described as Ukrainian. What do you think about this topic? Do you watch ‘Magnificent Century’?
Hürrem Sultan (Roksolana) left Ukraine when she was a little girl. Most probably, she did not even remember that she had been Ukrainian when she became a mature woman and a sultan’s wife but ultimately, she was Ukrainian. There was a word ‘Russian’ written on the inscription of Hürrem Sultan Tomb in the courtyard of İstanbul Süleymaniye Mosque. Our Consul General, who served in İstanbul earlier, asked the Turkish authorities to change the inscription into ‘Ukrainian’. Unfortunately, I can’t watch ‘Magnificent Century’ as it is in Turkish. But I would like to express my disappointment about a German actress acting in the role of Hürrem Sultan in the series. I think it wouldn’t have been very difficult to find a Ukrainian actress for this role (laughs). We also have a movie made about Hürrem Sultan (Roksolana) in Ukraine.
- What is your favourite aspect of Turkish culture?
Of course, your hospitality. In fact, the most important element that brings our people together is the hospitality of both sides. In addition, the traffic in Turkey and the drivers surprised me a lot. While driving in Turkey one feels like competing in Formula 1. Actually, you can compete in all kinds of car racing after driving in Turkey (laughs).
MY FAVOURITE FOOD IS ‘RAMADAN PİDE’
- How do you find Turkish cuisine?
You are very lucky to have such varied and delicious fish. We mostly consume river fish in Ukraine. There are many differences between sea fish and river fish in terms of flavour. I can’t say I love all Turkish food because Turkish cuisine doesn’t consist completely of healthy dishes. A lot of white bread and almost burnt red meat are consumed in Turkey. On the other hand, the quality of the meat here amazes me. Vegetables are also consumed in Turkey and this is the healthy side of your cuisine, the type of food I prefer. The quality of the meals served in Turkey is quite high. My favourite food is Ramadan pide. I don’t understand why it is only made during Ramadan. The pides made during the other times are not of the same quality and taste. Bread in Ukraine is not just food, but rather a part of our culture. But we consume more brown bread, and I strongly advise Turks to do the same.