Slovakia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine and European aspirations of Ukraine - Prime Minister Heger.

An exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of Slovakia Eduard Heger for the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency

Text: Nataliia Pushkaruk

- Please tell us about your expectations from the visit to Ukraine and the main messages you would like to convey to the Ukrainian authorities and society. What intergovernmental agreements are planned to be signed during your stay in Ukraine?

- I am happy to visit Kiev, the capital of our largest neighbor. Slovak government position clear – defined in the Manifesto of Slovak Government about support for territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, support for reforms. We are in favor of deepening mutual cooperation.

- Ukraine has already signed a declaration of support with several EU member states about its aspirations to join the EU. How does Slovakia feel about Ukraine's European aspirations and does it plan to sign such a declaration, to officially recognize Ukraine's European integration aspirations? What do you think about the probability of Ukraine's accession to the EU in the near future?

- Slovakia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine and her European aspirations of Ukraine. This is one of my main messages today in Kyiv. And we are vocal on that in Brussels as well. Presidential offices of both countries are working on the declaration you mentioned. Ukraine's European integration aspirations have been already officially recognized on many occasions. For now, it is important to use all the provisions the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine offers.

- How do you assess Ukraine's progress on the path to the EU and NATO? How close is our country to membership in these organizations? What government reforms have been successful, and which still need to be implemented in the near future?

- I am here today also to talk with Ukrainian interlocutors about the reforms. Indeed, transformation and modernization of the country is a prerequisite for becoming a member of the EU and NATO. The reform process in Ukraine is continuing and Slovakia believes it will be sustainable and successful. Btw, the changes are not about the EU and NATO, they need to be introduced be Ukrainians themselves to make Ukraine stronger, more resilient, to the benefit of all the Ukrainians.

- Recently, Russia withdrew its weapons and its military to the Ukrainian border. Despite statements about the withdrawal, a large number of Russian troops, the equipment remains near our border, as well as the threat of provocations by the Russian Federation. What EU assistance can Ukraine count on in a case of Russian military attack on Ukraine? Does Slovakia support the imposition of sectoral sanctions against Russia?

- I am informed about the developments on the Russian-Ukrainian border and Slovakia condemned recent Russian military build-up. EU is continuously working on the support for Ukraine. The EU has a wide scope of tools, restrictive measures being among them.

- Has Slovakia decided to participate in the Crimean platform? How do you feel about this initiative and who will take part in its inaugural summit in August from your country?

- Yes, Slovakia will participate at the inaugural Summit of the Crimean platform. We will be represented by President Čaputová. The top level of our representation gives an answer to your question.

- In your opinion, what can stop the completion of Nord Stream 2? Is Slovakia interested in maintaining gas transit through Ukraine? In your opinion, how to keep a certain amount of gas transit through Ukraine in case of its completion?

- As for the Nord Stream 2 Project, It is not in the hands of Slovakia to decide. Slovakia has always been a reliable transit country for the Russian gas to the West through the territory of Ukraine and we are definitely interested in keeping this gas transit through Ukraine. We believe the transit contract between Russia and Ukraine will be fulfilled further on.

- How do you assess the economic cooperation between Ukraine and Slovakia? What problems do Slovak investors face in Ukraine? What are Ukraine's expectations regarding the protection of the rights, in particular, of Slovak investors?

- Cooperation in economy does not reflect potential. More work is needed. - There's a need for proper preparation of Joint Commission on economic, industrial and scientific cooperation and bilateral business forum in autumn 2021. There will be wider significance of cooperation in energy and we need to build on that. Friendly and transparent business environment is basis for more Slovak (foreign) investments in Ukraine.

- Are all technical issues within the framework of the agreement on the functioning of Uzhhorod Airport agreed and when to expect its resumption? For how long is the agreement concluded?

- This is a very technical question. Bilateral agreement on the using of Slovak Air Space by the Uzhhorod airport will be in force as of 5 June. There are still some technical measures and procedures to be put in place and you simply cannot make shortcuts. It is about safety and established mechanisms in the air transportation, not about politics. I was informed that all the process will be finished in September.

- The Ukrainian government has announced that it is negotiating with neighboring countries on entry permits for citizens of our countries at the bilateral level, until the introduction of a single vaccination passport in the EU. Are Ukraine and Slovakia conducting such negotiations?

- We are very positive about the updated recommendation of the Commission (from 20 May) that makes it, under certain conditions, easier for travellers from third countries to enter the EU. We believe that with the progress of the vaccination and mutual acceptance of vaccination certificates the situation will improve

- Will Slovakia continue to receive wounded soldiers from Ukraine and children from the East for treatment?

- Since 2014 Slovakia has provided humanitarian aid and development assistance to Ukraine worth around 9.5 mil €. A significant part of it was linked to the people negatively affected by the conflict in Donbas, including organising rehabilitations for wounded people and children. COVID19 complicated the situation in all areas. Once the pandemic is over, we can have a look on this issue again.

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