Washington, 23 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko, on the last day of a visit to the United States, praised what he called the "high level" of bilateral relations and said he had brought a request for the "concretization" of a strategic partnership.
The foreign minister made the comments to reporters Tuesday after meeting separately the day before with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Defense Secretary William Perry.
Udovenko said he had carried a letter to Washington from Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma. He said the letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton calls for the "concretization" of a strategic partnership between the two countries. He did not specify what the partnership would entail, but added that Kyiv is also seeking a similar relationship with its neighbors, including Russia.
Udovenko said there has been a change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine under Clinton. He added that Kyiv is satisfied with the high level of relations between the two states, which he said was demonstrated by the recent establishment of a bilateral commission focusing on security and economic matters. He also said Ukraine, which is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel and Egypt, is very grateful for U.S. financial support.
Udovenko said that the United States had also helped in securing support from multilateral lending organizations. He said Ukraine needs $40 billion to restore its industry but added that Kyiv "understands such (large amounts) are not available."
He also discussed the desire of Ukrainian officials for an agreement with the NATO alliance, establishing what Udovenko called a "special partnership." He said details still must be discussed with NATO officials, but said it would involve close cooperation and consultations on security and other issues.
Udovenko said Ukraine would look for "guarantees for our national security." But he said Ukraine is committed to maintaining its non-bloc status, adding that "Ukraine is not going to join NATO."
Udovenko said that while his government does not see NATO expansion as a threat, it is "a very touchy issue" for many Ukrainian citizens who had been told for decades that NATO presented a danger. He said Russian attitudes are important, saying "the better relations (Russia has with NATO), the better for Ukraine."
While saying no state has a veto over NATO expansion, Udovenko said it should be "evolutionary, not revolutionary."
Ukrainian Embassy officials have said that Kyiv's relations with Moscow were a subject raised in Udovenko's Washington talks. Udovenko told reporters that over the last two months, there has been what he called "a very active negotiating process between Ukraine and Russia on a number of issues," including the long-standing dispute over division of the Black Sea fleet.
Udovenko says Kyiv hopes Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will sign an agreement in Kyiv the middle of next month resolving the issue. He said current talks include "the division of the Black Sea fleet, the location of the Russian (fleet), (and) Ukrainian territorial conditions."
Udovenko also discussed at the press conference conditions within Ukraine, which he said faces a deep economic crisis. He said Ukraine still suffers as a result of Soviet-era economic policies, particularly because some "40 percent of the Soviet military industrial complex was concentrated" there. He said these industries, which once employed three million people, are now "meaningless."
Ukraine has been rocked by unrest among coal industry workers and Udovenko predicted more trouble ahead. He said the government plans to close 53 of the country's 250 mines by the end of this year and another 50 next year. Udovenko says the mines are not competitive, producing coal that costs at least five times the international market rate.
A significant economic success in Ukraine, Udovenko says, is the reduction of inflation. After hitting an annual rate of 180 percent last year, he said it is now down to a monthly rate of 1 percent or less. He also hailed the privatization of 40,000 enterprises, and complained that this is often overlooked by American reporters.
Regarding democratization, Udovenko called the recent adoption of a new constitution an important step, but added that building democracy will take time and will require changing people's attitudes after seven decades of communist leadership.
The foreign minister said that joining the Council of Europe was another important step, since it required signing a number of European conventions, including the convention on human rights. But Udovenko said Ukraine will have difficulty meeting one council requirement -- the abolition of capital punishment within three years. He said Ukrainian society is "not yet ready to accept" it.
Udovenko said there has been no inter-ethnic conflict in Ukraine, adding that the government is very proud of that. He said despite the fact that there are areas of possible conflict, particularly in the Crimea, "not a drop of blood" has been spilled.