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Ukraine: Kuchma Begins Visit to Russia

Kyiv, 26 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma arrived in Moscow today on a state visit to the Russian Federation. The preparations for this visit were widely publicized in both the Russian and Ukrainian press. Most Russian commentators stressed the possible positive results from a warming of relations between Moscow and Kyiv, while many Ukrainian analysts were far more skeptical, and saw the visit within the context of pre-parliamentary and pre-presidential electioneering in Ukraine.

Prior to Kuchma's arrival, Russia's President Boris Yeltsin twice endorsed Kuchma for a second term in office, although the Presidential elections in Ukraine are not until next year. This created a negative reaction among Kuchma's opponents, who charged that Yeltsin was interfering in Ukraine's domestic politics. The Chairman of Russia's State Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, commented upon the upcoming visit by forecasting that soon Ukraine will join with Russia and Belarus in one Union.

The Deputy Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Alexander Razumkov yesterday told reporters in Kyiv that the Kuchma-Yeltsin agenda does not include a special discussion on Ukraine's parliamentary elections. However, Razumkov said, the two Presidents may touch on many issues, including the political situation in their countries. Ukraine's debt for Russian gas is not on the agenda, Razumkov said.

This week, (Feb 25) a high-powered delegation of Russian businessmen arrived in Kyiv for a meeting with their Ukrainian counterparts to map out plans for future cooperation, mainly in the oil and natural gas sectors. Kuchma told the Russian delegation that Ukraine "has been, is, and will be interested" in very close cooperation with Russian business circles.

The business delegation's visit came right after the visit to Kyiv by Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who announced Kuchma and Yeltsin would sign an agreement for Ukraine-Russia economic cooperation up to the year 2007.

At a Kyiv news conference this week (Feb 24), Ukrainian Parliament deputy Sergei Terekhin, said the economic agreement infringes on Ukraine's economic and political independence. Terekhin, who is also Chairman of the Economic Council of the Reforms and Order Party, asserted an attempt is underway to install a Belarusian model in Ukraine. He cited the draft as providing creation of a single budget, taxation system, currency, and capital and property market between Russia and Ukraine, which, he said, in effect revives a single economic space "managed by Russia." He also said the draft threatens Ukraine's national security in the political and military spheres.

A draft copy of this document was obtained by RFE/RL, and, indeed, there are several citations which seem to infringe upon Ukrainian economic and military prerogatives. Notable is the establishment of a joint air-defense system, and what seems to be a deference to Moscow in setting Ukrainian policy, especially in economic relations.