The "Strategic Group on Russian-Ukrainian Cooperation" held its inaugural meeting on December 11-12 in Kyiv. On the Russian side, the group includes, among others, the presidential foreign policy coordinator Sergei Yastrzhembsky, presidential foreign affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko, Deputy Prime Minister Valery Serov, First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov, and Yevgeny Ananev, the General Director of the Russian state arms trading company Rosvooruzhenie. Ukrainian members include the Deputy Head of Ukraine’s Defense and Security Council Oleksandr Razumkov, the presidential administration’s foreign policy director Volodymyr Ohryzko, Deputy Prime Minister Serhy Tyhypko, Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Minister Serhy Osyka, and Deputy Foreign Minister Kostyantin Hryshchenko, among others. Yastrzhembsky and Razumkov are co-chairmen of the Group. Its composition reflects the intention of Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma to control the process of rapprochement through their own staffs, relegating the cabinets of ministers to the role of executants of presidential directives.
The session discussed ways to remove the controversial value-added taxes in bilateral trade, joint programs in military industry, and "cooperation in oil refining" — a euphemism for the Russian goal of acquiring packages of shares in Ukraine’s refineries. The Group made no specific decisions on these matters. It only resolved — according to Razumkov — to "maintain communications via telephone hot lines." (Russian and Ukrainian agencies, December 12-13)
Razumkov’s rather redundant announcement may reflect the Kuchma administration’s need to demonstrate progress in Ukrainian-Russian relations in the runup to the Ukrainian elections. Razumkov has been credited with leading that effort on behalf of the presidential team. The Strategic Group has been created pursuant to Yeltsin’s and Kuchma’s decision at their November 16 informal summit near Moscow. (See Monitor, November 17-18)