Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 139

Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s July 15-18 visit to Ukraine occasioned an across-the-board review of Ukrainian-Russian relations ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election. Stepashin floated two trial balloons from the outset. In the meeting with Kuchma, he called for changes to Ukraine’s legislation, to make Ukrainian-Russian double citizenship possible and to confer official status on the Russian language in Ukraine, along with Ukrainian. Kuchma turned down both proposals. During the course of Stepashin’s visit, Kuchma told a gathering of journalists from Ukraine’s regions that “there must be one state language in Ukraine–Ukrainian. An ever-larger number of [Russian] people in Ukraine accept of their own accord the need to learn Ukrainian. There are no fewer Ukrainians in Russia than there are Russians in Ukraine, yet there are no Ukrainian schools and newspapers in Russia [though there are Russian ones in Ukraine].” Kuchma added that Crimea has only four elementary schools and one medium-school with complete Ukrainian-language instruction. At the same time Kuchma reaffirmed his “categorical opposition to coercive methods of introducing the Ukrainian language into official use” in the Crimea and other russified regions–a position held across Ukraine’s political spectrum. But Kuchma also underscored that he “never promised to anyone that he would introduce a second official language in Ukraine” (DINAU, UNIAN, Itar-Tass, Russian Television, July 15-16, 19).

On the eve of Stepashin’s visit, Russian Foreign Ministry officials speaking under the cover of anonymity had called for urging Kuchma to support the elevation of Russian to the status of an official language in Ukraine as a condition to Moscow’s support for Kuchma’s reelection. The officials recalled Kuchma’s 1994 election campaign message which had seemed to promise such a course, but which Kuchma subsequently repudiated (DINAU, UNIAN, Russian Television, July 16).