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Ukraine: Stagnation Prevails in Ukraine-Russia Relations

By Jan deWeydenthal

Prague, 15 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Signs of movement toward rapprochement in Ukraine-Russia relations have recently emerged, but it is unlikely that this could lead to a resolution of some fundamental problems separating the two countries.

Yesterday, Ukrainian and Russian officials met in Moscow to discuss, for the first time ever, ways of defining their common borders. Almost five years after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Ukraine and Russia as separate states, the frontier between the two still takes the form of a mere territorial line drawn along the former Soviet administrative divisions.

Two days ago, Ukraine's First Deputy Prime Minister Vasily Durdinets called for "developing and strengthening" bi-lateral relations, especially in the field of economics. Durdinets spoke at a session of the Ukrainian part of the Russia-Ukraine Joint Commission on Cooperation.

Two weeks ago (August 1-2) Ukraine's Foreign Minister Gennady Udovenko met with Russia's Yevgeny Primakov in Moscow for talks on expanding contacts.

But it is doubtful that any of these moves will provide a breakthrough in what Ukraine's Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko described yesterday at a press conference in Kyiv as "a certain stagnation" in Ukraine's relations with Russia.

Numerous economic agreements still await Russian formal acceptance, including a deal to overhaul the Ukrainian gas network, he said. Ukraine depends on Russia for the supply of energy. Lazarenko would take up the issue with Moscow during his forthcoming talks with Russian officials.

But talking is not synonymous with deciding. Yesterday's meeting on borders featured prolonged negotiations, but produced little tangible results. The two sides merely agreed to set up a joint "working group" to discuss an eventual delimitation of the border. The group may report their findings in October.

Even that is not certain. Speaking two days ago in Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mikhail Demurin observed that "the delimitation of the border between Russia and Ukraine is a long and difficult process."

Negotiations between the two countries have never been easy. An example is the issue of the Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine and Russia have held numerous rounds of inconclusive talks over the ownership and location of the fleet.

Russia's Foreign Minister Primakov said at the conclusion of his talks with Udovenko in Moscow two weeks ago that a basic friendship and cooperation treaty between Moscow and Kyiv would be possible only after the issue of the Black Sea Fleet is resolved. But there is no indication that any significant movement in this area is taking place. And there are no foreseeable prospects that the treaty will be signed any time soon.

At the heart of all those difficulties and problems appears to be a fundamental issue of Russia's full recognition of Ukraine's independence. Many Russians still regard Ukraine as a part of their own country. They resent Ukrainian efforts to assert full sovereignty.

This does not make it easy to develop cooperation. Many a Ukrainian politician looks with obvious concern at the nationalist fervor that permeates the Russian attitudes toward their country. And many show apprehension about recurrent moves by Moscow to "integrate" former Soviet republics into its area of influence.

It appears that as long as Ukraine's national separateness is not fully and formally accepted in Moscow, difficulties in "developing and strengthening" bi-lateral relations will continue.