Friday, March 5, 2010

Russia - Ukraine relationship: hope for improvement?

05/03/2010 (The Moscow News) Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovych met Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev during his first official visit to Moscow. Medvedev is hoping for the end of the "black stripe" in relations between Russia and Ukraine.
During the visit, Yanukovych met Medvedev to discuss the relationship between the two countries and the stay of the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. At the press conference after the meeting Yanukovych and Medvedev vowed to improve ties and said that a Russian-Ukrainian inter-state commission would be formed as a "key element in the cooperation". The first meetings of the commission headed by the presidents will take place in the first half of the year in Kiev. Medvedev said that there were no problems in the relationship between Russia and Ukraine and it was important that steps were taken towards mending cooperation in economic, political and security areas, as well as relationship with Europe. Russian president also said that Ukraine is Russia's strategic partner in the CIS and that Russia is ready to support its interests "on different international forums, including G8, G20 and international financial organizations."
The presidents also told the press that the talks about the Black Sea Fleet would continue on the base of the working agreements reached in 1997. The current agreement on basing the Russian Navy in Crimea runs out in 2017. Medvedev and Yanukovych did not discuss gas prices, as many experts anticipated them to. Yanukovych had previously expressed intentions to press Russia for a discount. Ukraine currently pays $305 for a thousand cubic meters, which is almost twice as much as Belarus - $168. Yanukovych called the improvement of ties with Russia one of his priorities during his election campaign. He has promised to make Russian an official language, at least in some regions, to discuss the prolongation of the Black Sea Fleet stay in Crimea and refrain from joining NATO. However, Yanukovych might not be as undeniably pro-Russian, as he is sometimes made out to be. He intends to enter a customs union with the EU, which prevents him from joining the union formed by Russia with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Yanukovych refused to acknowledge the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Russia keeps lobbying for, saying that this issue should be discussed in the UN together with Kosovo's independence. During his electoral campaign he said he aimed at renewing of friendly relations with Russia and developing of partnerships with other countries and organizations, including strategic partnership with the USA and IMF.