Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 52

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was at the receiving end of a sweeping proposal conveyed to him by Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on March 13 in Kyiv. Lukashenka seemed to act as a messenger for the Kremlin in delivering a joint Belarusan-Russian offer to establish “an overall strategic partnership” of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Without elaborating on it in public, Lukashenka stressed that the plan had the support of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and called for tripartite consultations to draft the partnership documents.

Kuchma deflected the proposal, as became evident at the concluding briefing when he spoke of partnership in terms of equal terms of trade. The talks yielded only a stated intention to study the creation of tripartite sugar-producing ventures. In discussing security issues, Lukashenka attacked NATO’s enlargement while Kuchma replied that Ukraine “views the enlargement positively, as a factor of stability in Europe.” An undaunted Lukashenka promised to keep meeting with Kuchma at three-month intervals to reconsider the original partnership initiative. The intent to meet with such frequency seems clearly related to this year’s presidential election in Ukraine, which Lukashenka and Russian nationalist circles in and out of government will undoubtedly seek to influence.

Ukrainian Parliament Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko proved receptive to Lukashenka’s message. Tkachenko welcomed, as he had earlier in Moscow, the idea of a Russia-Belarus-Ukraine “Union” and joined in Lukashenka’s attacks on NATO–a harbinger of changes which a Red victory in Ukraine’s presidential election might bring to Central Europe’s geopolitical landscape (DINAU, UNIAN, Itar-Tass, March 12, 13).–VS