Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: Kremlin Chooses Pragmatic Approach--An Analysis

Moscow, 4 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin says he is well satisfied with Russia's latest foreign policy developments.

On Saturday, returning to Moscow after signing a long-delayed Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Yeltsin said he was leaving Kyiv in a great mood. He said that he and Kuchma have solved all outstanding questions in their countries' bilateral relations and had "left no problems behind."

This morning, meeting First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais in the Kremlin, Yeltsin said he considers May a productive month for Russia. Yeltsin praised Chubais for his contribution to the achievements.

Among the issues that found a solution last month, the Russian President mentioned in particular four separate landmark agreements concluded between Russia and Chechnya, Belarus, NATO and Ukraine.

Some observers in Moscow perceive those agreements as a result of a more pragmatic and less confrontational Kremlin approach, developed under the guidance of a new group of politicians in the Russian government, led by Chubais. Some writers in the Russian press say that the swift sequence of decisions concerning issues that were long the subject of debate among Russian politicians indicates that the Kremlin has turned away from nationalist positions and great-power ambitions and to accepted the more realistic vision that Russia's economic future is closely linked with its foreign policy.

The agreement signed in Kyiv by Yeltsin and Kuchma aims at improving often-strained relations between their two countries and calls for an increase in trade and coordination of military, financial and tax policy.

Even more importantly, the friendship treaty, lasting for 10 years, guarantees the territorial integrity and sovereignty of both countries and drops Russia's long-running claims to Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, populated mainly by ethnic Russians. Russia and Ukraine had bitterly disagreed over the status of the naval base in the Crimean port-city of Sevastopol, home to the aging former Soviet Black Sea fleet.

The signing of the treaty was preceded by a deal last Wednesday, resulting in a packet of agreements under which Russia will lease the Sevastopol base for the next 20 years for the equivalent of $100 million per year, to be taken off Kyiv's debt to Moscow.

Many Russian politicians and the upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, have urged the Kremlin to claim Sevastopol as Russian. Their statements, particularly those from Moscow populist Mayor Yury Luzhkov, have exacerbated tensions between the two countries.

Following the signing of the friendship treaty on Saturday, Luzhkov protested the deal in these words: "Sevastopol is a Russian city and it will be Russian, regardless the decision taken." Interfax news agency, quoting Luzhkov's office, said yesterday that Luzhkov intended to touch on the issue during a meeting with Yeltsin today. But, the agency subsequently reported, Yeltsin said today that he plannedto discuss with Luzhkov only issues concerning Moscow. Interfax quoted Yeltsin as telling Luzhkov to steer away from confrontations with the government.

Dissatisfaction with the treaty could jeopardize ratification of the friendship deal and especially of the Black Sea fleet deal in both the Russian and Ukrainian parliaments.

Yeltsin said after the signing that Russia and Ukraine are equal, democratic states, and affirmed that Russia does not claim any part of Ukraine, or its cities. Such strong statements indicate that Yeltsin has ceased trying to placate his communist and nationalist opposition.

Since becoming independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has sought to boost economic and political links with the West and loosen ties binding it to Russia. Ukraine has succeeded in asserting its independence. Despite being a member of the CIS, Ukraine has insisted that it bases its policy on firm and developing ties with Western institutions.

Russian officials have said improving relations with Ukraine will help ease concerns in Russia about the planned NATO eastward expansion. Last week, Russia signed an agreement with the North Atlantic Organization in Paris, recognizing the right of former East bloc countries to join NATO and giving Russia a voice in the alliance's decision-making. That agreement in Paris was followed two days later in Sintra, Portugal, by Ukraine's approving an agreement an closer cooperation with NATO.