By Tevfik Durul and Tugcenur Yilmaz
ANTALYA, Turkey (AA) – Ukraine and Turkey will sign a free trade agreement before the end of this year, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Poroshenko said: “We hope, before the end of the year, we will have a successful result. […] We do our best to have this result and to have this compromise.”
Poroshenko spoke after the opening ceremony of Ukraine’s consulate in Antalya on Sunday.
Calling his talks with Turkish officials as “crucial” and “important”, Poroshenko said that the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council "is the most efficient instrument” for bilateral cooperation.
Poroshenko met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the 7th meeting of the council between Turkey and Ukraine held in Istanbul on Saturday.
In 2011, ties between the two countries gained the status of the strategic partnership with the establishment of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
“I am really appreciated by my great friend, a great friend of Ukraine, President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the absolutely clear position in supporting Ukrainian sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence.”
Poroshenko also expressed gratitude for Turkey’s “firm and strong position” in not recognizing the illegal annexation of the Crimea.
“I think this is the crucial form to keep peace and stability in the region,” he said.
In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea after a controversial referendum, which drew the ire of the international community as Russian soldiers occupied the region during the voting process.
Poroshenko said he discussed many topics including security, military, and technical cooperation, economy, tourism, cultural contacts, people to people contact and governmental documents with Turkish officials during his visit.
“We demonstrate a significant progress in these fields," he said.
– Military cooperation
Hailing the “beneficial” military and technical cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine, Poroshenko said: “Ukraine has their own powerful military and technical complex and we support the Turkish security and defense sector, by supplying parts of Turkish aviation, Turkish tank industry, unmanned aviation vehicles, and many many others.”
“The same way, we are very much enjoyed to receive different type of armament from Turkey in the most difficult time of Ukraine during the Russian aggression.
“We feel the reliable shoulder of our Turkish partners,” he said.
He also praised Turkey’s support to Ukraine in its integration into NATO.
“Turkey actively participated in the NATO Trust Fund. Turkey, every time, supports Ukraine on the NATO summit and the Ukraine-NATO Commission. We very much enjoy this strong and reliable position of Turkey.”
– “Hot war”
On the conflict in the Donbas region, eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko said many people thought that Russian aggression in the east of the country was a “frozen conflict”.
“This is definitely not,” he said. “This is the hot war.”
He went on saying: “Russian troops attack every single day the Ukrainian positions, they use the sniper fires, artillery fire, mortar fire, the multi-rocket launch system, tanks, all instrument of the attack, with illegal weapons, which were delivered from Russian Federation, by the troops of Russian Federation.
“Every single week, Ukraine lost their soldiers, Ukraine lost its heroes,” he said, underlining the importance of the need for unity and solidarity for Ukraine across the world.
“I am very much appreciated with the position of Turkey in the all international arena including the General Assembly of the United Nations,” he said.
“It is a very strong motivation for having Russia at the table of negotiation to implement all the points and means of the agreement, especially the security package to withdraw Russian occupational troops, to take out all the Russian weapons, to stop killing Ukrainians, to stop the illegal annexation of Crimea.
“With this situation, that would be a significant step for establishing peace and security in the Black Sea region,” Poroshenko said.
– Bilateral ties
On the bilateral ties between the two countries, Poroshenko said: “If I can imagine the better relationship between the people and between the countries and between the presidents, I can say this is impossible because we have already the full level of trust, full level of support and full level of friendship.
“This is not only the political support of each other, this is not only the cooperation in security and defense fields. This is not only support in the international arena, but this is the extremely important cooperation in the economic field and people to people field.”
Touching on passport-free travel with national ID card, he said: “It is very easy to travel to each other. Can you imagine? More than 180 flights a week. This is the number of flights, which support the number of tourists and businessmen, scientists, students and many others for visiting the country.”
“More than 1,3 million Ukrainian tourists will visit Turkey this year. This is rapidly moving to 1,5 million,” he added.
Stating that Turkish people are also visiting Ukraine often, he said: “More than 300,000 Turkish people are visiting Ukraine and this is absolutely normal when we hear the Turkish language throughout Ukraine because Ukraine started to be very interesting for Turkish tourists and Turkish business.”
He also noted that Turkish businessmen feel absolutely comfortable in Ukraine.
“Turkey is among top five trade partners and top seven investment partners of Ukraine. Turkish companies are building up infrastructural objects; housing, road constructions, airport, and railway stations, bridges and many many others. This is the very bright demonstration,” he said.
Talking about 20 percent rise in Turkish-Ukraine trade, investment, and the number of tourists in the recent years, Poroshenko said: “This is the very good characteristics that business, tourists, people, governments and presidents feel absolutely comfortable with the development of the situation. I am very proud of that.”
– Release of Crimean Tatar leaders
The president also recalled that Turkey helped Ukraine to have the two Crimean Tatar leaders Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov back, who were imprisoned by Russia.
“All Ukrainian people and all Crimean Tatars thank Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take them back from the Russian prison and from the prison of Crimea and delivering them to Ukraine.
“We continue this cooperation with our Turkish partners, the Turkish president, to release more political prisoners from Russian prisons, more Crimean Tatars from the occupied Crimea and more Ukrainians, who are [taken] hostages on the occupied territory of Donbas,” he said.
“We use all instruments to release the occupied territory of Donbas and Crimea by political and diplomatic means. We do our best and I am absolutely confident that Crimea would be back and it would stay Ukrainians,” he added.
– Independence of Ukrainian Church
Earlier on Saturday, Poroshenko visited Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul and met Patriarch Bartholomew. Poroshenko and Bartholomew signed a cooperation agreement on the ongoing process for establishing an independent Ukrainian church.
Speaking on the importance of the independence of the Ukrainian Church, he said: “I think it is great and very much important part of our independence.”
Stating that Ukrainians have been praying for over 1,000 years for realizing this, he said: “We have the meeting yesterday with the Ecumenical Patriarch. We are very much optimist. We think that this should happen very soon. We pray and we do our best. Because this will bring peace to Ukraine, will bring unity of Ukraine.”
On Oct. 11, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was agreed to be independent of the Russian Orthodox Church during a meeting held at the Patriarchate in Istanbul.
“I think I am very much optimistic that God will help us to have it as soon as possible and this is important that this positive news will come from Fener [Greek Patriarchate],” the Ukrainian president added.
Poroshenko also thanked Turkey and Turkish people for the hospitality.
“1,5 million Ukrainian tourists, who came here [Turkey], felt like at home. Thank you for the strong support to Ukraine in the international arena and thank you for your business interest, and for the investors. Because we are real friends and real strategic partner," he concluded.