Ukrainian officials consider the issue of the interstate treaty with Russia and Boris Yeltsin’s official visit to Ukraine to sign that treaty as a decisive test of Ukrainian-Russian relations. President Leonid Kuchma and other officials failed last week to obtain a commitment from visiting Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov regarding the signing of the treaty and Yeltsin’s visit. Moreover, Primakov, followed by Yeltsin’s spokesman Sergei Medvedev, reaffirmed that the treaty and the visit are conditional on the prior resolution of the dispute over the Black Sea fleet. Kiev regards the reinstatement of that linkage as a disappointing step backward after Yeltsin himself had seemed to remove the linkage in his talks with Kuchma in Moscow last month and again in a telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president last week. Although Primakov appeared to agree tentatively to schedule Yeltsin’s visit to Ukraine for April 4-5, the Kremlin promptly made clear that the precondition for the visit remained the same. Yet the dispute over the basing of Russia’s share of the Black Sea fleet is far from resolved because of Moscow’s insistence on exclusive basing rights in Sevastopol and refusal to accept leasing arrangements proposed by Ukraine.
Russia’s presidential election will influence Yeltsin’s decision to visit Ukraine, as Kuchma indicated during an official meeting this week. But Kuchma emphasized that the treaty "must not be delayed;" without it, "any partnership [with Russia] is out of the question." His views were seconded by a senior Foreign Ministry official. (15) From the Ukrainian viewpoint, time is of the essence. The victory of a Communist or nationalist candidate in Russia’s presidential election in June would be a severe setback to the normalization of Ukrainian-Russian relations.
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