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Russia: Putin Calls For Closer Ties With Ukraine

Kyiv, 18 April 2000 (RFE/RL) - Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin says he wants to raise relations with Ukraine, following talks today in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. "The level of the relationship between our peoples, the mixing between Russians and Ukrainians that took place during centuries doesn't leave us any other choice but one: to consider the relationship between our two states as the closest, warm and strategic." Kuchma said Putin's visit will serve as "serious groundwork for a strategic partnership."

Putin said he and Kuchma discussed Ukraine's huge gas debt to Russia. The Russians say Ukraine owes them 2 billion. Kyiv says the figure is $1.4 billion.

DPA says the Ukrainian delegation presented their Russian counterparts with a plan to pay off the gas debt as well as a list of 320 agricultural exports Ukraine wants to sell duty-free in Russia.

Putin said Russia will consider both proposals. Putin and Kuchma are now traveling to Sevastopol for a joint inspection of the Black Sea Fleet.