Speaking at a forum in Kiev on Thursday, Kuchma, who served as independent Ukraine's second president between 1994 and early 2005, accented his speech with some unusually frank remarks about the nature of the relationship between Ukraine and the European Union.
The ex-president complained that the EU was "bringing [Ukraine] to its knees" with its trade policy, adding that Europe sees the country as a mere raw materials colony. Ukraine couldn't even sell Europe its foodstuffs, Kuchma said, given its extremely stringent system of quotas.
At the same time, Kuchma stressed that Ukraine's economy had found itself in a major crisis, with development grinding to a complete halt.
"We have completely forgotten about the economy," the former president said. "We are completely falling apart; there are no high technology sectors left; the rocketry, space, and aviation industries are gone…We are turning into a raw materials colony; all we have left is metallurgy, chemicals, agriculture. What direction are we headed in?"
According to Kuchma, Ukraine should have no illusions about receiving help from the EU, or the West in general. "Enough walking around the world, hat in hand," he said. "If we do not come to our senses and begin dealing with problems – if people don't believe the government, if we do not all pull in one direction, no forums will be able to help us; no one will do these things for us."
"It's necessary to understand that the European Union is simply another competitor – whether to Ukraine, Russia or the United States," Okhrimenko stressed. "It can't be the case that European companies will be made to close down so that Ukrainian producers can sell something. This is business."
The observer emphasized that the much-talked about Association Agreement that Ukraine had signed with the EU was never destined to be any sort of miracle agreement; it was simply an opportunity for Ukrainian businesses to receive the right to work in the European market.
Accordingly, the observer noted that it was time for Ukrainian politicians to stop with the meaningless slogans. "If Ukrainian companies cannot learn to work in the European way, that's too bad. Europe doesn't owe them anything; it is not obliged to accommodate itself to Ukrainian companies. We have to stop with the senseless slogans like 'Europe loves us; Europe owes us'."