"Russia has changed its approach to Ukraine," President Leonid Kuchma told a December 12 conference with Cherkassk Oblast officials. "They used to want us as their vassal; now they want us as an economic and political partner." The preceding day, the president announced the "end of the economic and political war with Russia." In both of these statements, Kuchma expressed confidence that Moscow will — by January 1 — remove surcharges on Ukrainian sugar and alcohol and will also lift onerous value-added taxes on other Ukrainian goods, pursuant to agreements reached last month in principle. The president also announced that he would "not insist" on restitution of Ukraine’s share of the ex-USSR’s assets. (Russian and Ukrainian agencies, December 12-13) In a little-noticed statement a week earlier, also while on the road in the provinces, Kuchma had declared that "Ukrainian-Russian relations ought to go beyond Ukraine’s relations with other countries." (Ukrainian agencies, December 5)
Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko, for his part, announced that Kyiv has reached agreement with Russia’s Gazprom on guaranteed and mutually advantageous Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine in 1998. (Russian and Ukrainian agencies, December 12-13) Pustovoytenko chose to make the announcement in Donetsk, heart of russified eastern Ukraine, where the presidential camp faces a hard and potentially decisive electoral test. The statements by the president and prime minister clearly take that reality into account.
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