Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 179

Heading a Russian Duma delegation to Kyiv on September 28-29, the Duma’s Communist Party Chairman Gennady Seleznev played the part of a would-be governor who had descended on an unruly province. In his talks with Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk and with Ukrainian parliamentary leaders, and in his address to the host country’s parliament, Seleznev used unusually frank language in presenting a list of recriminations and demands.

Seleznev took Ukraine to task because of its relations with NATO, termed Kyiv’s policy toward the CIS “fundamentally wrong” and urged Ukraine to become a “full-fledged participant” in the CIS, called for the expansion of the Russia-Belarus Union into a Russia-Ukraine-Belarus Union (an economic and security bloc that would function as a “Slavic” counterweight to the West), charged against all evidence that Ukraine restricts the public use of the Russian language, and referred to Russians and Ukrainians as “a single people”–in effect denying Ukrainian national identity.

This latter comment virtually echoed Patriarch Aleksy II’s and Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s references last week to “Great Russians” and “Little Russians”–meaning Russians and Ukrainians–as parts of one people. The Russian Church leader and the Duma’s communist leader revealed on this issue a common position, rooted in traditional Russian state ideology.

Responding to Ukrainian concern about the Duma’s unwillingness to ratify the bilateral interstate treaty, Seleznev named two conditions to ratification. First was Ukrainian consent to long-term basing arrangements for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Second was a clarification of Ukraine’s position on NATO’s enlargement and the working out of a common Russian-Ukrainian position. The first condition is old and the second, new. Seleznev emphasized the new one. The treaty, signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma in May 1997, recognizes Ukraine’s territorial integrity and current borders. The Ukrainian parliament promptly ratified the treaty. But the Duma’s unwillingness to ratify deprives the document of legal force and means that Russia’s pledge is nonbinding. Against the background of statements by some politicians in Moscow who question the border, and given the uncertainties surrounding Russia’s overall course, Kyiv is anxious to secure Russian ratification of the treaty.

Seleznev’s performance triggered loud protests from the national-democrats–the Rukh parliamentary group and its allies walked out of the parliament in protest–to enthusiastic cheers from the Ukrainian communists and their comrades. The reaction highlighted the polarized nature of the Ukrainian parliament, the existing potential for polarization in the country and the complicated task faced by the executive branch in holding society together under the twin pressures of economic crisis and a resurgent left in Moscow.

The Ukrainian leader’s immediate reaction was firm but restrained. Kuchma announced that he “categorically opposes” any Russian-Ukrainian-Belarusan union or “USSR-like union.” He also pointed out that the CIS Economic Union, and the CIS in general, “have not led anywhere” in terms of economic or any other benefits. Tarasyuk defended his pro-Western policy, but also pointed out that “hardly any political force in Ukraine would oppose close and friendly relations with Russia.” Parliament Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko somewhat awkwardly tried to focus the discussion on the narrow issue of Ukraine’s full accession to the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly–a symbolic step long desired by Ukraine’s Reds. Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko and other executive branch leaders pointed out that the Russian-Ukrainian free trade agreement and ten-year economic cooperation program have remained on paper only, that Moscow double-taxes major imports from Ukraine and that bilateral trade had been shrinking even before the onset of Russia’s financial crisis (UNIAN, Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), Itar-Tass, Russian Television, September 28 through 30). –VS