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Yugoslavia: Ukraine Torn Between East And West On Kosovo

Kyiv, 8 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's parliament again failed (April 6) to agree on a resolution curtailing Ukraine-NATO relations in response to NATO's air strikes on Yugoslavia.

The resolution fell 35 votes short of the 226 votes needed for adoption. Center-Right deputies were among the 53 who voted against it. The resolution is the latest in a series proposed in response to NATO's actions in Yugoslavia, which have served to deepen the split in Ukraine between those who look east and those who look west for their country's future.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but it has signed a Partnership for Peace agreement with the alliance. In addition, a presidential decree provides for a state program for cooperation with NATO until 2001.

Provoked by the Balkan crisis, the predominantly Left-oriented parliament -- led by the outspokenly pro-Russian speaker Olexandr Tkachenko -- has drawn up several resolutions demanding that Ukraine opt out of its accords with NATO and reverse its nuclear-free status, which it has held since 1991. But the government -- led by Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Defense Minister Olexandr Kuzmuk and President Leonid Kuchma -- is treading a far more cautious path. It is seeking both not to offend NATO by limiting Kyiv's cooperation, while at the same time trying to placate Russia by joining calls to abandon NATO air strikes for diplomacy.

The Ukrainian government has officially declared its opposition to the use of NATO military force in Yugoslavia on the grounds that it was initiated without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. Yet, it has carefully stopped short of taking sides. Two days after the first NATO strikes on March 24, Foreign Minister Tarasyuk said: "Ukraine is not interested in a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, or in the continuation of NATO air strikes, or in an all-Slavic crusade to defend the Serb brethren."

Ukraine has put itself forward as a negotiator in the conflict, but so far to no avail. Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Kuzmuk flew to Belgrade on March 27 for a 90-minute talk with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but a senior Ukrainian official told Reuters afterward that Milosevic appeared "deaf and blind to our proposals." Tarasyuk refused to reveal what the proposals were.

Kuchma has turned a deaf ear to parliament's calls for military intervention, an end to the process of destroying Ukraine's nuclear weapons silos and planes, and a stop to NATO cooperation. Speaking in Saint Petersburg five days ago (April 2), according to the news agency Interfax, Tkachenko declared that "our duty and paramount objective is unhesitatingly to give humanitarian, food, medical and -- above all -- military aid to the Yugoslav people,"

But just a few days later, President Kuchma, in his phrase, "categorically declined" any military aid from Ukraine to Serbia. Interfax reported that on Monday (April 5) Kuchma said: "Only politicians with neither soul nor heart are capable of calling for military aid." And he added: "There are no parents in Ukraine wishing to send their children to war."

Realistically, Ukraine can neither afford to send military aid to Serbia nor give up its cooperation with NATO, which has led to lucrative loans of Ukrainian training grounds for joint exercises and the only opportunity for the Ukrainian army to get rigorous training in recent years. On March 18, just days before the start of the NATO bombing campaign, national security chief Volodymyr Horbulin declared that partnership with the alliance posed no threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity and instead was the key to independence and security.

At the same press conference, Ukrainian and NATO leaders both suggested that a declaration about Ukraine-NATO ties would soon be made. Kuchma has said that parliamentary resolutions will not affect Ukraine because foreign policy is the prerogative of the executive branch. But parliament speaker Tkachenko has asserted that foreign and domestic policies are determined by parliament.

Two days ago, the government announced it was sending some 355,000 dollars in humanitarian aid to help Kosovar refugees in Macedonia. It also said that seven Yugoslav civilian airplanes would be harbored in Ukrainian airports at the request of Milosevic. According to the Foreign Ministry, Ukraine agreed to the deal as part of its peace initiatives, and Yugoslavia will pay for the service.

On the streets, both the extreme left and the extreme right have been unanimous in condemning NATO's actions. Orthodox believers lit candles and waved icons outside the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, while communists and members of the Ukrainian National Army (UNA), a right-wing para-military organization, chanted anti-U.S. slogans. The UNA also announced a call-up of volunteers to be sent to Yugoslavia to aid the Serbs. The organization has called for changing a law that now makes participation in foreign wars a criminal offense, apparently because it foresees participation of Ukrainian mercenaries in the Serb conflict.

Anti-NATO demonstrations in Ukraine have been much more low-key than in Russia. But Ukraine's media has taken its cue from Russian coverage, with extensive reports on the plight of the Serbs and little or nothing on the exodus of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo. "Genocide" is a word often leveled at NATO, while "ethnic cleansing" is barely mentioned in the press.

Ukraine leftists have used the opportunity to push for renewing and strengthening the nation's ties with Russia. A recent analysis piece in the popular daily "Fakty" was headlined "Ukraine's Road to a Stable Europe Is Via Russia." The piece was followed by a negative article headlined, "Why Do We Need Friendship With NATO?"

(Lily Hyde is a Kyiv-based journalist who reports for RFE/RL.)