Boris Yeltsin’s and Leonid Kuchma’s November 16-17 "no-necktie summit" near Moscow showed, above all, an intention to improve the political atmosphere between Russia and Ukraine. In spite of an official agenda that focused on economic relations, the meeting between the two presidents seemed to produce few, and ambiguous, decisions in that sphere. (See Monitor, November 18) Kuchma yesterday corroborated that impression by implying that Ukraine had failed to obtain any significant debt relief on Russian gas: "all the pending issues have been resolved, except one: we must pay punctually for the gas." (Ukrainian agencies, November 18)
But the political tenor of the meeting and its televised images in both countries were unprecedentedly warm. The two presidents scheduled an official summit in February to sign a 10-year economic cooperation agreement. While the informal summit coincided with the opening of Ukraine’s parliamentary election campaign, the official summit and treaty signing will take place at the height of that campaign. (Russian and Ukrainian TV and news agencies, November 16-18) The timing suggests that Moscow has decided to help Kuchma’s camp in the parliamentary elections, and — by implication — to favor Kuchma’s own reelection the following year.
The embattled Ukrainian president and the parties supporting him face an uphill struggle in populous eastern Ukraine, where a pro-Russian orientation remains strong, and where the parliamentary and presidential elections may ultimately be decided. Although he ran and won as that region’s candidate in 1994 while promising close relations with Russia, Kuchma turned around to become a convinced promoter of Ukrainian national interests. His political rating in eastern Ukraine has since plummeted. In the country as a whole, the Socialists and Communists have virtually monopolized the role of promoters of good relations with Russia.
Kuchma and the pro-presidential parties could benefit immensely in the campaign if they were able to reclaim or share that role. It is largely within Moscow’s power to bestow that role on Kuchma through joint scheduling of high-level meetings and management of the political atmospherics. The scheduling of the two Yeltsin-Kuchma summits suggests that Moscow has decided to cooperate with the Ukrainian president in that effort. That, in turn, indicates that the improvement in political relations is likely to be at least a medium-term rather than a short-term trend. This development also raises the question of the political price that may be asked of Kuchma for this important favor.
Moscow Calls on Belarus to Adapt to Russian Economics Laws.