Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon completed yesterday a tour of official visits which took them to Moscow (see Russian Federation section above), Kyiv and Tbilisi (see South Caucasus section below). When welcoming the Israeli leaders in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had declared that their “itinerary from Kyiv to Moscow to Tbilisi virtually unifies the CIS countries” (Itar-Tass, March 22)–a comment which denies reality. The Netanyahu-Sharon visits to Ukraine and Georgia in fact underscored those countries’ national independence and their significant differences with Russia’s foreign policy.
The visit to Ukraine was unburdened by disputed issues, such as those which affect Israel’s relations with Russia–namely, transfers of nuclear and missile technologies to Iran and cases of official anti-Semitism. Kyiv’s bill of health is clean on both counts. Netanyahu announced in Kyiv that Israel has agreed to join the Kharkiv Initiative, a U.S.-Ukrainian program to develop that Ukrainian city and region (see the Monitor, December 4, 1998). The program seeks to make up for losses incurred by Kharkiv industry when Ukraine canceled its participation in the Russian-Iranian project to build the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.
Ukraine’s Jewish community leaders, unlike their Moscow counterparts, had no anti-Semitic trends to report. President Leonid Kuchma stated during the talks that he would “intervene personally” to deal with discrimination against Jewish citizens, should it occur. Kuchma joined the Israeli delegation and Jewish community members in laying flowers at the Babyn Yar monument to Jewish holocaust victims.
Ukrainian and Israeli officials were said to have signed a set of memoranda of understanding on military and security cooperation. The contents of those documents was not disclosed. They also agreed on joint efforts to promote bilateral trade. Current turnover, while on the rise, is still modest, with a figure of US$174 million for 1998. Ukraine runs a substantial surplus, with US$132 million worth of exports–primarily ferrous and nonferrous metallurgical products–to Israel, compared with US$42 million of imports from that country last year (UNIAN, DINAU, Ukrainian Television, Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), Israel Television, Kol Israel, March 21-23).–VS
GEORGIA, ISRAEL STRENGTHEN TIES.