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Russia/Ukraine: Serious Negotiations Begin On NATO Charter

Washington, 4 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Negotiations get under way in earnest this week on separate charters between NATO and Russia and NATO and Ukraine to frame their future relations with the Western military alliance.

Bilateral talks will take place at practically the same time but they will produce very different charters reflecting the different positions and demands of the two countries.

Ukraine's ambassador to the United States Juriy Shcherbak says "the negotiations are parallel only in time and space."

In a recent RFE/RL interview, Shcherbak pointed out that unlike Russia, Ukraine is not opposed to NATO expansion.

"We are partners with NATO. We welcome expansion," he said, adding that Ukraine wants closer ties with NATO and this will shape the charter.

The current hopes are for a charter signing ceremony for both Ukraine and Russia to be held at a NATO summit in Madrid in July. Discussions this week and throughout the month in Washington, Brussels, Moscow, Kyiv and Helsinki will likely decide whether that date can be kept.

Shcherbak said the charters might be signed on the same day but the process is separate for each country.

The Ukrainian process is to advance when Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko comes to Washington on Friday to meet with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Shcherbak said NATO expansion and Ukraine's proposed charter with the alliance will be the principal topics of discussion.

The NATO-Ukrainian discussions will continue in Brussels late next week, on March 15 when Udovenko has been invited to meet with Solana.

Shcherbak said a Ukrainian draft proposal on the charter was sent to NATO members several months ago and most have now reviewed it. It's main elements are security guarantees for Ukraine and establishing a NATO non-military presence in Ukraine.

Shcherbak left open the question of a NATO-Ukrainian permanent consultative council, similar to a proposed NATO-Russian council.

He said it is a possibility but that his government is mainly interested in having a permanent NATO representation in Ukraine. "Our desire is to have a NATO information center in Ukraine," he said.

Shcherbak said Ukraine's constitution does not permit the presence of foreign troops but that NATO observers would be welcome at the information center.

He emphasized that the most important thing for Ukraine in a NATO charter would be a security guarantee of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders.

Shcherbak said Ukraine does not want to join NATO now or in the next few years. Strong security guarantees would bridge this five or ten-year period, he said.

Over the last three years there have been conflicting and ambivalent statements from Kyiv, as well as some reversals and counter-reversals of position on joining NATO.

"We cannot now join NATO. Ukraine has non-block (non-aligned) status. But we can change this status maybe in ten years, who knows. But today Ukraine does not want to join NATO," said Shcherbak.

He said it is important for his government that a cooperation charter with NATO recognize "Ukraine's geostrategic role as being crucial to the security architecture of Europe." Scherbak said this understanding by NATO countries is very important for Kyiv and one of the negotiating points on the charter.

That is very different from the provisions and guarantees that Russia is talking about. While the Ukrainians are seeking assurances on security and a concrete expression of closer ties. the Russians want binding commitments and limits on NATO.

They are interested mostly in guarantees that when NATO expands, no NATO forces will move eastward into the new NATO member states' territory and thus closer to Russia.

The Russians want a binding commitment that NATO military forces and equipment, including radar stations and communication networks, will not be deployed beyond present locations.

NATO officials are reluctant to make that kind of a commitment into the future. They say that NATO is adapting to new political realities and becoming a political organization but it still remains a military alliance.

"We have to be able to honor military commitments to new members," said one official.

Senior NATO and Russian officials are expected to begin tough negotiations on this issue in Moscow today in preparation for a third round of talks at the weekend between NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Senior NATO and Russian officials are expected to begin tough negotiations on this issue in Moscow today in preparation for a third round of talks at the weekend between NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Today's talks between Solana's deputy Gebhardt von Moltke and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasyevski will also focus on differences over the legal force of the document.

Russia wants a formal treaty that would be legally binding. As such, it would also have to be ratified by the national legislatures of all NATO member states.

The Western alliance wants a more flexible arrangement in the form of a charter setting out aims and principles.

After two previous meetings in February, the two sides now have an outline or working document of one major element in the proposed charter -- a NATO-Russia council that would provide a permanent forum for consultations on security issues.

The council would have a secretariat at NATO headquarters in Brussels with a Russian delegation headed by an ambassador accredited to NATO.

Critics of the idea say this would give Russia undue influence on NATO decisions. But NATO officials say the council would only give Russia an opportunity to be heard on NATO activities -- a voice but no veto power.

Primakov, on the orders of his president, is to travel to Washington in the near future to discuss NATO expansion and these issues ahead of the U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki on March 2O and 21. Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin hope to be able to announce in Helsinki that they have reached a compromise on NATO.