The Crimean parliament yesterday approved the appointment as prime minister of Arkady Demidenko, a 46-year-old ethnic Ukrainian who previously held the post of first deputy prime minister and who is regarded as pragmatic and non-partisan. Crimea, where the majority of the population are ethnic Russians, is Ukraine’s only autonomous republic. Demidenko was selected from a list of five candidates by Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, and the manner of his appointment underlines the shift in the balance of power that has taken place over the past year between the central Ukrainian authorities and the local authorities in the Crimean capital, Simferopol. Last year, Kiev dismissed the autonomous republic’s president, annulled its constitution, and subordinated its government directly to the center. Negotiations are now going on between Kiev and Simferopol over a new constitution that would allow Crimea wide economic autonomy but rule out separatist aspirations.
There are hopes that the signing of a long-awaited Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty will normalize relations not only between the two countries but also between Kiev and Simferopol. The division of the Black Sea Fleet, based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, is now believed to be the only sticking point to be settled before Yeltsin travels to Kiev to sign the treaty. His visit, which has been postponed many times in the past, is currently scheduled for April 4. (13)