Accessibility links

Ukraine: Tension Persists In Relations With Russia

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, 2 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has announced that he would travel to Ukraine in the first half of October to sign agreements on the Black Sea Fleet and economic cooperation with Kyiv.

Chernomyrdin said two days ago in Moscow that he would also sign "all necessary intermediary documents" in the final preparation for the signing of a long-awaited comprehensive Ukraine-Russia treaty of friendship and cooperation.

The signing of the treaty has been repeatedly postponed, largely owing to persistent differences between the two countries on the future status and location of the large Black Sea Fleet.

After years of intermittent negotiations, Ukraine and Russia have reached broad accords on dividing some 900 vessels. But disagreements remain on the location of the future headquarters of the Russian segment of the fleet. Moscow insists on the exclusive right to headquarter its segment of the fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Kyiv demands that a part of the port serve as the headquarters of its own fleet, while the rest is merely leased to the Russians.

Today, a group of Ukrainian experts meets in Moscow with their Russian counterparts to discuss the issue.

Chernomyrdin said that he "hoped to resolve the Black Sea Fleet division issue" during his trip to Kyiv. He said that he had discussed the problem with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma during a sudden closed meeting in Moscow at the end of the last week.

Chernomyrdin said that the meeting was "extremely useful" and that he and Kuchma "had reached understanding and made considerable progress on practically all issues" in bilateral relations. Kuchma was reported by the Ukrainian media to have made similar assurances.

Other Ukrainian officials appear less certain of the outcome of those talks. They point out that yesterday, three days after the Chernomyrdin-Kuchma meeting, the Russian customs service started levying a 20 percent value added tax (VAT) on imports from Ukraine (Ukrainian sugar imports were charged ten percent VAT). The officials say that the tax was certain adversely to affect bilateral trade.

Ukrainian officials also note that several Russian politicians, including Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, have recently reiterated suggestions that the port of Sevastopol is historically a Russian territory.

Some Ukrainian newspapers have intimated that the imposition of the VAT and the renewed Russian claims to Sevastopol may be linked. And Ukrainian opposition politicians have suggested that the Russian moves on the tax amount to a "trade war" against Kyiv. They also say that this "war" has strong political undertones, reflecting Moscow's alleged reluctance to recognize Ukraine's independence.

"It will take a long time before Russia gets used to the fact that Ukraine is a foreign country," said parliamentary deputy Serhy Teryokin on a television program.

A spokesman for the Russian Customs Service was reported by the Russian media as having said yesterday that the tax move was decided in August to be introduced at the beginning of September, but that its implementation was finally deferred until October. He said that the decision had been prompted by Ukraine's introduction of a similar tax on Russian imports earlier this year.

But this explanation was unlikely to appease Ukrainian politicians and trade officials. Yesterday, several Ukrainian parliamentarians lambasted Kuchma for allegedly allowing Moscow to wage "a trade war" against Kyiv and jeopardizing Ukraine's prestige by taking a "confidential" trip to Russia.