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New York was gridlocked last Tuesday when US firm Chadbourne & Parke hosted a lunch in honour of Ukraine president Viktor Yushchenko.
The staunchly pro-Western Yushchenko was in town for the UN General Assembly, the cause of the mid-town logjam.
As The Lawyer’s cabbie explained: “Bush is in town, man, everything’s packed.”
Having eventually made it to Chadbourne’s Rockefeller Centre offices, I was there to see Yushchenko deliver a forthright speech, at what is a politically highly charged time for Ukraine and the CIS region, to a room packed with partners, clients and visiting dignitaries.
The backdrop to Yushchenko’s US visit – and the keen interest of international firms such as Chadbourne in what he has to say – is primarily the rising level of turmoil locally. Four years ago Ukraine took its first steps towards becoming a fully paid-up member of the West – a move that would inevitably generate significant levels of overseas investment.
It is therefore no coincidence that Chadbourne has one of the largest presences of any law firm in the Russian and CIS region, with offices in Moscow, St Petersburg, Almaty and Warsaw.
But earlier this month Ukraine’s pro-Western coalition collapsed, leaving the country facing the prospect of its third election in three years. Adding to the tension, and the concerns of any potential overseas investors (and their advisers), was the conflict between Russia and Georgia last month.
Speaking via an interpreter, Yushchenko was on a mission to convince his audience that his determination to see Ukraine join the EU and Nato was undimmed by the recent events.
“The highest priority for Ukraine is security,” asserted Yushchenko. “In the 20th century we declared our independence six times, and five times we lost it. The question now is whether Ukraine goes back to the swamp or takes a different direction.”
The answer to that question may become clearer to Yushchenko and firms such as Chadbourne if an early election takes place later this year.