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Russia: Ratification Of Treaty With Ukraine In Doubt

Prague, 15 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- When Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk called his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov by telephone yesterday from Kyiv, he almost certainly focused on the prospects for ratification of the Ukraine-Russia friendship treaty by Russia's Federation Council (upper chamber of parliament).

Indeed, only hours before making the call, Tarasyuk was reported by Russian news agencies to have said he was planning to raise with officials in Moscow what he described as "certain matters" regarding the ratification.

Tarasyuk was further reported to have said that some Russian politicians express doubt about the treaty and that, in his quoted words, "there are quite influential political forces (in Russia who take) a destructive position regarding Ukraine." He was also cited as saying that those forces continue to "act contrary to the interests of their own people and also in defiance of common sense."

The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and Russia was signed by presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma almost two years ago (May 1997), after it had been held up for several years owing to persistent bilateral disputes.

The signing effectively signaled Moscow's recognition of Ukraine's sovereignty. Until 1991, when it declared its independence, Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union.

The treaty also paved the way for a gradual rapprochement between the two countries, crowned last year (March) by the conclusion of a 10-year agreement on economic cooperation.

Last month (Dec. 25), the Ukraine-Russia friendship treaty was formally ratified by Russia's State Duma (lower chamber of parliament) in the first step toward final approval. It is scheduled for a ratification vote in the Federation Council at the end of this month.

Approval there appears uncertain, however, owing to growing opposition in both countries.

Earlier this week, Russian news agencies reported from Ukraine that the local Slavic Party had sent a letter to Russian Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroyev and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov appealing for the rejection of the treaty.

Luzhkov is a powerful figure in Russian politics. A likely candidate in the next presidential election, he is a member of the Federation Council and is known to be reluctant to recognize Ukraine's territorial and political separateness.

The Slavic Party's letter was said to have described the recent ratification of the treaty by the State Duma as a "poorly thought-out step" and justified its appeal with allegations of so-called "anti-Russian state policies" by the Kyiv government.

Yesterday, the Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" featured an article by Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, Sergei Baburin, in which he said that "the treaty with Ukraine should n-o-t be ratified at any price."

Baburin justified his plea with a two-fold argument. First, he said, the treaty adversely affects Russia's national interests because, by affirming Ukraine's separateness, it facilitates its rapprochement with NATO. Ukraine, Baburin said, "regards NATO as the most effective European security structure" and has already signed what he called a "cooperation program" (the Ukraine-NATO Council) with the Alliance. The ratification of the treaty, Baburin said, "would open the way to NATO for Ukraine (and amount to a) clear-cut declaration of intent to join NATO."

The second argument was essentially political, touching on traditional ideas of Russia-led pan-Slavic movements. "The matter in question," Baburin said, "is not only the fate of relations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The matter in question is the future of the close-knit Slav people." He argued that the safeguarding of Slavic unity requires the rejection of the treaty. Baburin is regarded as a relatively moderate politician. Once a Left-leaning nationalist, he was involved in the 1993 conflict with President Boris Yeltsin. But more recently he has joined the mainstream political establishment.

His "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" article is important because it confirms the existence of lingering hopes among many influential Russian political figures that Russia and Ukraine may eventually reunite. More important in the short term, Baburin's article suggests that the ratification of the Ukraine-Russia friendship treaty by the Federation Council may indeed be in doubt.

It is was the consciousness of that danger which prompted Tarasyuk's call to Ivanov. But it is not certain whether his argument will prevail in the end.