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Ukraine: Kuchma Says New FM Does Not Signal Policy Change

Ukrainian officials are making clear that the naming of a new foreign minister does not signal a shift in the country's foreign policy. RFE/RL correspondent Tony Wesolowsky reports, though, that it's still not clear where the country's foreign policy priorities lie -- with Russia and the East, or the EU and the West.

Prague, 4 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine has a new foreign minister, after President Leonid Kuchma officially appointed Anatoly Zlenko to the post on Monday (Oct. 2). Zlenko replaces Borys Tarasyuk.

In announcing the appointment, Kuchma stressed it does not signal a shift in foreign policy.

For his part, Zlenko said Ukraine places top priority on relations with the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

Zlenko previously served as foreign minister from 1990 to 1994 and has the distinction of being the last foreign minister of Soviet Ukraine. The 62-year-old diplomat was kept on as the first foreign minister of independent Ukraine and was closely identified with Leonid Kravchuk, Kuchma's moderate nationalist predecessor who led the drive for independence.

Zlenko was replaced after Kuchma defeated Kravchuk in the 1994 presidential election. He then served as Kyiv's UN representative before being named ambassador to France in 1997.

The man he replaces, Borys Tarasyuk, served two years as foreign minister. His biggest success probably was winning Ukraine non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council in 1999. Tarasyuk was also key in cobbling together a charter on special relations with NATO.

It's still not clear why Tarasyuk was replaced.

Russian sources say Tarasyuk was sacked for giving short shrift to relations with Moscow, and for being too friendly toward NATO and the West.

At a ceremony announcing him to his post, Zlenko confirmed that ties with former Soviet republics were a priority. A presidential spokesman (Oleksander Martynenko) quotes Zlenko as saying relations with Russia need to be "smoothed out."

Kuchma also said Russia should be a priority for Ukraine. He is quoted as saying on Monday that Ukraine needs to find an "effective formula" for its relations with Russia. He says relations should not be aimed at confrontation but at mutual cooperation.

Russia still holds considerable sway over Ukraine nearly 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Energy -- namely, gas and nuclear fuel -- are the tools of persuasion at Moscow's disposal. Ukraine owes Russia as much as $1.5 billion for previous gas deliveries.

Others say Tarasyuk was fired because Ukraine wasn't making progress in its relations with the West.

Mykhailo Pohrebinsky of Kyiv's Independent Center for Political Studies says the Foreign Ministry has done little to counter Ukraine's worsening image in the West, where the former Soviet republic is seen as corrupt and lagging in reforms.

That has dampened Western eagerness to invest in Ukraine, something Kuchma says must change. He said yesterday Ukrainian foreign policy must help the country overcome its economic problems and create an attractive investment climate.

Kuchma is also pressing for economic and political reforms so that Ukraine can join the World Trade Organization next year and the European Union some time in the future.

Ukraine's bid to join the European Union received a jolt at a recent EU-Ukraine summit in Paris. EU leaders at the summit, while welcoming what French President Jacques Chirac called "the pro-European choice of Ukraine," were reluctant to commit themselves to a timetable for starting membership talks with Ukraine.

Some say the biggest plus Zlenko brings to the job is years of diplomatic service abroad. This is important not only for the contacts he cultivated in the West, but also for the contacts he avoided making if he had stayed in Ukraine. Pohrebinsky says this gives Zlenko a degree of independence that is rare in Ukraine's clan-like politics.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.