Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh was in Bucharest this week on the first official visit by a Ukrainian prime minister to Romania in 10 years. Kinakh met with his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase and President Ion Iliescu and signed a protocol on bilateral economic cooperation. The two sides also agreed to try to resolve border disputes that have been hampering closer ties.
Prague, 30 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh and Romania's Prime Minister Adrian Nastase met today in Bucharest in a bid to boost economic cooperation between the two neighbors and to discuss cross-border ties.
Relations between Romania and Ukraine have been less than cordial since Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The main issues involve the common border, the exploitation of resources in the Black Sea, and the treatment of ethnic minorities.
Kinakh today at a joint news conference with Nastase acknowledged that his visit was the first by a Ukrainian prime minister to Romania since the two countries established official ties a decade ago -- a process which he termed as "complex."
"This is the first visit by a Ukrainian prime minister to Romania over the past 10 years. In two days, we will mark 10 years since Romania and Ukraine have established diplomatic ties, and the process of establishing these ties was a complex one."
Nastase and Kinakh signed a protocol under which the two sides pledge to boost economic cooperation. Kinakh said economic exchanges last year grew 25 percent to some $600 million. But both sides admitted trade levels are still modest.
Nastase, acknowledging bilateral relations have stagnated, pointed out that it had been seven years since the Romanian-Ukrainian economic body last met. He vowed to do more to intensify economic cooperation.
"We managed to organize during this visit the second meeting of the intergovernmental consultative council for economic cooperation -- and we must point out that the first meeting took place seven years ago. Unfortunately, during these years, preoccupied with the domestic changes in our countries, with our priorities to connect with another countries, we ignored, to a certain extent, the relations with our neighbors, and we also ignored the potential of our domestic markets. That is why this visit marks a change of approach, a return to a pragmatic and constructive attitude. That is why there is so much content in the [signed] protocol, and also that is the reason why we talked a lot about cross-border cooperation."
After years of bickering, Romania and Ukraine in 1997 signed a bilateral treaty. But sensitive differences remained unsolved, with the two sides agreeing to negotiate them later.
The two most important issues are the common border on the Danube and sharing the Black Sea continental shelf around Serpent Island, which belonged to Romania before World War II but was incorporated into the Soviet Union after the war.
The Romanian-Ukrainian border on Danube's Chilia tributary is located on the Romanian bank, and not along the middle line of the river as international norms usually require. The border configuration was decided in a 1948 protocol between Romania and Soviet Union -- of which Ukraine was part at the time -- and was later reconfirmed in a 1961 Soviet-Romanian treaty.
The same 1961 treaty also determined the sea boundary between Romania and the then-USSR.
Under the 1997 treaty with the Ukraine, Romania renounced its claim for Serpent Island but demanded a re-delimitation of the continental shelf around the island where geologists believe oil deposits might be located.
Romania wants to negotiate a modification of both the Danube border and the delimitation of the Black Sea continental shelf. But Kyiv says Ukraine is the legal successor of USSR's borders with Romania, which existed at the moment of the Soviet Union's demise in 1991.
The 1997 bilateral treaty -- signed by the then-center-right government of Romania -- was harshly criticized at the time by Romania's leftist opposition.
After the victory of the left in the 2000 election, the new Social Democratic government led by Adrian Nastase stepped up criticism of the treaty.
Nastase himself has repeatedly said the treaty was hastily prepared, while Romanian officials have accused Ukraine of illegally exploiting oil resources around Serpent Island.
Following Romanian criticism, negotiations have been blocked since last year on the annexes of the bilateral treaty regarding the common border and the delimitation of the continental shelf as well as the two sides' exclusive economic zones in the Black Sea.
Kinakh told journalists that he and Nastase agreed these issues must be approached "constructively." He said a new round of negotiations -- the 12th -- will take place in Bucharest next month.
"There already have been 11 rounds of negotiations, and in February the 12th round will take place here in Bucharest. We agreed that these problems must be tackled in a constructive manner so that we can find solutions which are in accordance with international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Romania, and bilateral agreements."
Kinakh said he hoped progress would be made toward resolving these differences before Romanian President Ion Iliescu's visit to Ukraine, which is likely to take place in the first half of this year. Iliescu today said he accepted Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's invitation to visit Ukraine, but a date has yet to be announced.
Romania and Ukraine have also had differences regarding the treatment of Ukraine's Romanian ethnic minority.
Following the 1944 Soviet occupation of Romania's northeastern part -- known as Northern Bucovina -- some 135,000 Romanians are living in what is now Ukraine, while Romania is in turn host to an ethnic Ukrainian minority scattered along the country's northeastern border with Ukraine.
Both sides have accused each other of violating minority rights, and even of unofficially nurturing territorial claims.
But Nastase today appealed to a greater level of trust between the two sides. He pointed out that the 1997 bilateral treaty between Romania and Ukraine was the first guarantee against any territorial claims between the two countries.
"Regarding ethnic minorities, beyond the documents adopted in Romania or Ukraine, the approach depends to a great extent on the degree of trust between the two countries. The 1997 treaty represents a fundamental political position which is a starting point in eliminating any suspicions that the minorities issue could be used as a reason to discuss territorial claims."
Kinakh said Ukraine was never the scene of ethnic conflicts, although it is home to more than a hundred ethnic groups. Kinakh also said that by boosting the cross-border economic cooperation, ethnic minorities on both sides of the border will gain.
He said that to facilitate this better customs legislation is necessary as well as more rigorous measures to prevent drug and arms trafficking.