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Central Europe: Three Presidents Strengthen Ties

By Breffni O'Rourke and Radu Busneag

Prague, 26 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Romania, Ukraine and Poland have met in Bucharest for talks focusing on the improvement of their ties, including economic links. Market analysts say the summit between Emil Constantinescu, Leonid Kuchma and Aleksander Kwasniewski could be a win-win exercise for all three of the ex-communist countries.

Of the three, Poland is the "tiger" economy, with a well-developed private sector, a vigorous entrepreneurial spirit and with preparations already in hand for early membership of the European Union. The host country Romania is at last making a brave attempt at structural reforms, but momentum appears to be ebbing, and fresh impetus is needed. Ukraine is the least transformed of the three, with much of its economic sector still enmired in old, inefficient structures.

Nevertheless, Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma has an interesting hand to play in Bucharest. Ukraine analyst Jurgan Conrad, of Deutsche Bank Research, notes that Kuchma and his Prime Minister Valery Pustoivitenko are now negotiating with Russia over new prices for Russian gas supplies. One of the themes of the Bucharest summit has been sharing energy resources. Conrad says it's in Kuchma's advantage to play up the possibility of Ukraine looking beyond Russia for its energy supplies. For Kyiv to hint at reducing its reliance on Moscow for energy might have an impact on the price negotiations -- even though Romania's industry is hardly in a position in the short term to replace Russia as Ukraine's main supplier.

Further, Conrad says this summit can be seen as an opportunity for Ukraine to foster links with prospective members of the NATO defence alliance. Poland is a first-wave candidate for membership, and Romania is eagerly waiting in the wings. Kyiv's attitue to NATO is ambivalent, but it knows that most of its neighbours sooner or later will be members.

And back on the purely economic level, the markets of Romania and Poland are suitable outlets for Ukrainian agricultural and manufactured goods, which are often too unsophisticated to find a ready place on Western markets.

For its part, Romania has been focusing much on the West in recent years, at the expense of its former communist neighbours. Deutsche Bank Research's Romania specialist Andrea Burgtorf notes that Germany and Italy are now Romania's big trading partners. The current summit provides the opportunity for Romania to re-focus on the trade possibilities with its eastern neighbours, and look for export opportunities. Burgtorf says Romania's manufactured items can be seen as better quality generally than those of Ukraine, but still cheap enough to find a place on Ukraine's and Poland's markets.

Warsaw analyst Pavel Demczuk of Wood and Co. says President Kwasniewski has the same sort of pre-occupations in Bucharest, namely that the old eastern contacts should not be forgotten in Poland's headlong rush to become a fully-fledged partner with the West.

In addition, all three summit countries have a common interest in Bucovina -- an area named as a "Euro-region" under the Romania-Ukraine basic treaty signed earlier this year.

Bucovina, before Word War II, was a region of Great Romania, but was later divided between the USSR and Romania. Eventually the Soviet part went to the Ukraine. Its population consists of Romanians and Ukainians, and also of Poles. Now, as a "Euro-region" it is meant to be an area of special regional trans-border cooperation, not only in economic effort, but also in cultural, educational or environmental fields. Bucovina and its progress towards fulfilment of the Euro-ideal was one of the things the three leaders discussed.