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Dmytro Firtash: Ukraine must be strong, independent and neutral

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May 21, 2014, 8:14 p.m. |

Dmytro Firtash is in Austria awaiting extradition to the United States on federal bribery chargines invovling a $500 million Indian mining project. He calls the criminal case against him politically motivated.
© AFP

I am proud to be a citizen of Ukraine. This is a country that geographically and psychologically is a bridge between Europe, Russia and Asia.  I believe we can and should be a strong, independent, and neutral nation.  We should be viewed as the "Switzerland of Eurasia,” allied with none, but friends and traders with all. 

Since the ninth century, Ukraine was the center of one of the great world trade routes passing connecting Europe, Asia and the Middle East and served as an intercultural bridge for peoples and entire civilizations. 

This is why, today, the people of Ukraine speak different languages, and follow different religions. About three-quarters of our people, primarily in the west, are, like me, ethnic Ukrainian.  About one-fifth of the population, primarily in the east, is ethnic Russian and has family and cultural ties to Russia. There are also Byelorussians, Moldovans, Poles, Jews, Tatars, Bulgarians, Hungarians and many other ethnic groups living in Ukraine.

While we may speak in different languages and have different cultural traditions, we are all Ukrainians. Ukraine is a common home for peoples with various ethnic, national, and linguistic roots, but with a common national identity. This has been the case with America, Russia and the countries of Europe. We can respect and encourage autonomy and the preservation of historical ties and languages in the regions of Ukraine, but nevertheless still be one country and one nation. 

About 500 million people live in the European Union, to the West of Ukraine. To the East lies Russia, a nation of 140 million people. Ukraine is not just a point on the map. Ukraine is, by territory, the largest country in Europe and by population the sixth largest, with a population of more than 45 million people. This is why we ask that the West and East look at us not through their own eyes, but through our eyes and to understand what is best for us and our country.

I believe it serves no nation's interest, either European, or American, or Russian, and certainly not that of Ukraine, if events in our country lead to a tragic re-play of the Cold War. 

We need to be strong economically. We can achieve this by trading with everyone, being open to foreign investors who are attracted by the richness of our natural resources, our free market, our commitment to individual freedom, economic opportunities, and the rule of law.  We have well-developed infrastructure – roads, railways and pipelines, many ports on the Black Sea, fertile land, water, minerals, and natural resources. Our most important wealth is our people – highly-educated and hard-working. We are, and should be, seen by the East and West as a neutral crossroads for commerce and economic opportunities open equally for all.

There should be no national crises or internal conflicts within our country. They are contradictory to our nature and our history. It is essential to allow greater autonomy to our provinces, but the extent and boundaries of this autonomy should be determined by the Ukranian people and our national government. Our country also needs other nations to respect the national integrity of Ukraine. 

I am a businessman.  I am not interested in the political views of my business or trading partners.  I started as a young man with nothing in the early 1990s, and my country was in a chaotic situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine declared her independence and we started to build a new democratic system of government in very difficult times. We had no national currency and no public institutions to ensure order and stability. For many years, the main problem for most of us Ukrainians has been how to go about finding basic food, shelter, and security for our families and ensure the future of our children.

Now, almost 25 years later, Ukraine is becoming a democratic country and a center for Eurasian commerce. Helped by business partners and private capital from the East and the West, our business has created businesses and enterprises that provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of citizens. We invest all my money in Ukraine, and not in other countries. We believe that Ukraine one day will become an economic powerhouse within Europe, a country with a high standard of living that will successfully cooperate with many countries -- if other nations respect our independence and our neutrality. 

As a native Ukrainian who loves my country, I wholeheartedly support the holding of presidential elections on May 25. We need to move beyond the crises of the last several months and elect new leadership for the country, which will serve the interests of the Ukrainian people.  I hope that the nations of the world, especially Europe, Russia and America, will support these elections taking place without delay.

I believe in a united, independent, and neutral Ukraine. This is not only in the national interest of our great country; it is, without doubt, in the interests of all who want peace and prosperity for all people. 

As Abraham Lincoln said in 1864, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Dmytro Firtash, a leading businessman in Ukraine, is under indictment by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Illinois for allegedly committing various U.S. crimes. Firtash states categorically that he is innocent of all charges.

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