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Ukraine: Talks Reaffirm Russian Commitment To Cooperation

By Katya Gorchinskaya

Kyiv, 28 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has sought to reassure Ukraine of Moscow's support, after Russia's State Duma recently failed to ratify a joint Friendship and Cooperation Treaty.

"Relations with Ukraine are a priority for Russia, and we view the Treaty as the basis of strategic partnership," Primakov told a press conference yesterday in Kyiv at the end of his two-day stop-over in Ukraine en route to Western Europe.

Primakov's busy schedule included seven hours of talks with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, an hour of direct talks with Security Council Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin and another hour with President Leonid Kuchma. All of these talks touched on long-standing problems in the countries' relations, like delimitation of borders, relations with NATO, disputes over ownership of the Russian Embassy in Kyiv and the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, and division of property of the former USSR. Some progress was reported to have been made on the issues, but few details were released.

The issue that received the most attention was the recent failure of the Duma to ratify the Russia-Ukraine Friendship and Cooperation Treaty. The Treaty was signed last Summer, during the first visit of Russian President Boris Yeltsin to Kyiv. The visit, and the Treaty that followed, took years to sign because of ongoing tension between Russia and Ukraine on issues such as division of the Black Sea Fleet and cooperation with NATO.

The Treaty was ratified by Ukraine's Parliament last December. After Russia's Duma again failed to ratify the Treaty this month, Duma deputies demanded Ukraine's Parliament give them an explanation as to how Kyiv views relations with NATO.

Ukraine has suggested that it views itself as a potential member of the Alliance, while Russia has been holding a hard line against expansion of NATO to the former Communist bloc, which it has traditionally considered its sphere of influence. During Primakov's visit, Ukrainian officials hastened to explain their position concerning NATO to both the Duma and the Russian minister.

Volodymyr Horbulin, Secretary of the National Security Council, said Russia and Ukraine must first and foremost "step to the European Union," but he added that Kyiv was not talking about Trans-Atlantic structures.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk assured Primakov that cooperation with NATO has never been meant against any third country, especially, against "neighboring, friendly Russia." He insisted military cooperation is not the primary goal of Ukraine-Northern Atlantic relations. As Tarasyuk put it, "the emphasis is on prevention of, and actions in, emergency situations, information sharing and staff training -- everything that helps to solve our internal problems."

RFE/RL Kyiv reports Primakov, apparently reassured, promised he would personally look into ratification of the Treaty by talking to all factions in Parliament. Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Maidannyk said Primakov also promised President Kuchma that he would personally present the document to Russia's leftist-dominated Duma. Maidannyk said "It will be easier to have it approved if Primakov personally presents it."

In exchange for Primakov's patronage of the Treaty, Kuchma promised that he would push for ratification by Ukraine's Parliament of bilateral documents on stationing of Russia's portion of the Black Sea fleet in Ukraine. Maidannyk said Kuchma already ordered the Cabinet to submit urgently all three agreements to Parliament.

These papers were signed last year by prime ministers of each country, but still need to be ratified by both legislative bodies to come into effect.

Ukraine's government has never pushed for ratification of these agreements, because they give very favorable conditions for stationing the Russian portion of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, and privileges in payment for the lease of this base.

Leftists and nationalists in Russia's Duma have delayed consideration of the agreements over Crimea. Crimea's population is more than 70 percent ethnic Russian, and historically was a part of the Russian empire.

Primakov praised Kuchma's concession on the fleet agreements. He said Kuchma's decision to submit for ratification the three agreements was "very highly valued" by the Russian side. He also said it was one of the conditions for successful ratification of the Ukraine-Russia Friendship & Cooperation treaty.