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Ukraine: Kyiv Says Accord With Moscow Is Not Anti-NATO

The Russian defense minister has said that following his recent visit to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the two countries' militaries will strengthen their ties. But Ukrainian and NATO officials insist that this cooperation would not come at the expense of Ukraine's ties with the West and NATO.

Prague, 24 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Following last week's visit to Ukraine by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, Russia announced the two countries had signed a wide-ranging, 52-point accord on joint exercises, training and weapons production.

General Leonid Ivashov, the chief of the Russian Defense Ministry's Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation, said Russia would take part in planning multinational exercises on Ukrainian territory and would help plan such exercises on Russian territory.

While Sergeyev was in Kyiv, he met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Kuzmuk, and with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko. Yuschenko said afterward that Ukraine regards technical and military cooperation as an inseparable part of its relations with Russia.

But this week Ukraine was emphasizing that the accord does not signal a tilt away from the West and NATO. Ukraine, in contrast to Russia, has developed strong ties with NATO and is a participant in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Ukraine does not oppose NATO's eastward expansion, while Russia has condemned it.

The spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Colonel Oleksandr Nahorynsky, said the agreement does invite Russia to take part in three joint military exercises. But he said Ukraine has routinely offered such invitations for several years and Russia has rejected them.

Nahorynsky says that when Ukraine holds joint exercises with Russia and Belarus, analysts say it signals a tilt toward Russia. Conversely, he says, when Ukraine holds exercises with western countries or NATO, analysts see evidence of a shift away from Russia.

Nahorynsky says both perceptions are inaccurate:

"Our foreign policy strategy is a multivectored one. We are talking today about strategic partnerships with the Russian Federation and with the U.S. We give particular attention to our military cooperation with Poland. So to talk about some tilt in this context after the official visit to Ukraine of the Russian defense minister is off the mark."

Nahorynsky said any interpretation of the accords that suggests Russia would be involved in planning multinational exercises in Ukraine that do not involve Ukraine is wrong:

"I would like to say that no agreements of the sort alluded to by some media were signed. What we are dealing with here is an invitation by the Ukrainian defense minister, Oleksandr Kuzmuk, to his Russian counterpart for Russian units to take part in peacekeeping training exercises on Ukrainian territory."

NATO's chief representative in Kyiv, Natalia Melniczuk, said that the agreement with Russia had not come as a surprise.

"We have heard very clearly in the last eight months from all the [Ukrainian] ministers and we have been given the message, as I think every international organization and every individual country mission out here, that Ukraine was indeed pursuing stronger ties and stronger communication with Russia. And simultaneously we were told not to expect any change in the NATO-Ukraine relationship, and for our part we have not seen any shift or any backing away from the NATO-Ukraine relationship."

Melniczuk said NATO is eager to improve ties with Russia, and the Moscow-Kyiv accord did not change either Ukraine's or NATO's stance toward Russia.

"For example, to date, whenever there's a NATO-led partnership for peace exercises in Ukraine, Russia is always invited to participate. Indeed it's been Russia's reticence to participate in some of these activities that has prevented them from participating in all of them."

Melniczuk said increased cooperation between the Russian and Ukrainian military could be viewed as in everyone's interests.

"A stable neighborhood is not only in Ukraine's interests but in the interests of NATO as well, and we believe that communication and cooperation on various aspects of security is an important component of building that stable relationship in the region. Therefore, at this time, we do not presuppose that this strengthening of relations between Ukraine and Russia on the 'military cooperation front' would take away from any type of NATO-Ukraine activity."

Both Nahorynsky and Melniczuk say NATO and the Ukrainian government are working on extending cooperation agreements that expire this year. Nahorynsky says he expects a fresh agreement running to 2004 to be worked out soon.

This week (Jan. 22), Polish Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski visited Kuzmuk in Ukraine to sign a program for cooperation between their ministries in 2001-2003 that calls for 69 joint exercises. NATO-member Poland and Ukraine have a joint peacekeeping battalion in Kosovo operating under NATO auspices.