President Viktor Yanukovych gave a press conference at the Ukrainian House in Kyiv on Friday, summing up three years of his presidency.
He said that the social and economic reforms launched in Ukraine under his presidency had yielded positive effects. Among the major positive achievements he cited the adoption of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Tax Code, a drastic reduction in the number of permits for business activities, and rising social standards. "It is a fact that the reform process is not as fast as we all want it to be. But it is also understood that any radical reform is painful and takes a lot of effort, time, and patience" Yanukovych said. The President admitted to numerous economic and social problems in the country which, as he said, remained unresolved due to the huge burden of expensive energy imports. He reiterated his blame on the fettering gas supply contract with Russia signed by Yulia Tymoshenko, saying the exorbitant price of Russian natural gas kept the country cash-strapped. He said that Ukraine would further increase domestic extraction of natural gas and coal and apply energy efficient technologies in order to lessen its dependence on imported fuels and thus make its products competitive. Yanukovych said that European integration remained the top priority in Ukraine's foreign policy, saying that the government would shortly set up a work group in charge of fulfilling the conditions necessary for signing the Association Agreement with the European Union. "The group will supervise the completion of the first phase of the visa liberalization action plan and the implementation of reforms aimed at raising the people's living standards and ensuring the observance of their human rights and freedoms. The country needs these reforms. We need to address these issues first of all for our own sake. These reforms will undoubtedly harmonize our relations with Europe," Yanukovych said. Almost 400 Ukrainian and foreign journalists and reporters were present at the press conference while the Ukrainian House was picketed by nearly a thousand opposition activists.