Victor Yushchenko has opened a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council, according to the President`s press-office.

      Its participants are expected to discuss the following issues:

      Ukraine’s national strategy;

      prevention and minimizations of national security threats in the area of VAT transactions;

      plans to hold international military exercises involving Ukrainian officers in 2007 in Ukraine and abroad.

      “Today, the Security Council will address a number of strategically important issues,” said Victor Yushchenko.

      The President stated that a national security and defense strategy was of fundamental significance, “one of the cornerstones of our state,” and urged the participants of the meeting to formulate a common position on the issue.

      “I am convinced the government must act in this field harmoniously, consistently and with a clear vision of their common objective,” he said.

      Such a goal, he continued, consists of three components: a safe environment, Euro-Atlantic integration, and the country’s participation in the reinforcement of collective security.

      Besides global issues, Ukraine must address its domestic problems, posing a threat to its security, he said. One of such challenges, he explained, is to preserve national unity.

      “We must have a stable resource of unity. At the same time, the country must uncompromisingly prevent forces inside and outside the country from artificially deepening regional contradictions and using them to achieve political or business goals,” he said.

      The President insisted that they must fight corruption and profoundly reform Ukraine’s government. Many problems in the country’s economic security remain unresolved, he said.

      “In this area, there is a complex of challenges: insufficient and inconsistent reforms, inefficient use of material resources and energy, underdeveloped markets and hugely criminalized economy,” he said, adding that delays might ruin economic and social reforms.

      Mr. Yushchenko also said it was incumbent on the Security Council to reform the security sector and the judicial system.

      “Ukrainian courts fail to ensure the rule of law. The country’s law enforcement agencies do not protect civil rights and freedoms properly. It destroys our state and we must counterstrike,” he said.

      The President also said Ukraine’s intelligence offices must be “adequate to national security threats and develop new professional quality.”

      He described the issue of VAT rebates as a “problem characterizing the national economy” and said it had been “truly acute” since September.