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Kuchma Promises New Ukraine Constitution

Strasbourg, France; April 23 (RFE/RL) - Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma today promised the Council of Europe that his country will soon adopt a new constitution that will serve as the foundation for the development of democracy.

Kuchma made the pledge in a wide-ranging speech to the council's parliamenary assembly in Strasbourg, France.

Kuchma said Ukraine is the only East European country that has not adopted a new constitution since the downfall of communism in the region. He said the new constitution has been held up by what he called a struggle between those who want a return to totalitarianism and democratic forces.

But Kuchma said, "We are not looking for confrontation, we are looking for compromise."

Kuchma promised that the new constitution will be put before the Ukrainian people in a referendum.

He said the constitution would guarantee Crimea - with its large population of Russians - "an autonomous status within the framework of the Ukrainian unitary state." Kuchma criticized what he called "separatist forces" both inside and outside Ukraine, who he said were trying to produce a "flare-up" in Crimea.

Kuchma was questioned by parliamentarians about efforts within Russia to revive the Soviet Union. Kuchma said flatly, "There's no way back to the Soviet Union." He said he was in favor of good relations with Russia, but rejected any "supranational or state-like unification" with countries of the former Soviet Union.