Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 159

Ukrainian foreign minister Hennady Udovenko conferred on August 26-27 in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Yevgeny Primakov, and, separately, with Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and presidential administration deputy head Sergei Yastrzhembsky. Both sides described the meetings — and also talks held the preceding day by economic experts — as "constructive and friendly" and marked by "mutual understanding." However, they were unable to announce any progress on the specific issues included on their agenda. In response to one long-standing Ukrainian concern, Primakov announced merely that the demarcation of the Russian-Ukrainian border "is not a matter for today, to put it mildly." The bilateral border-delimitation commission will hold another meeting next month. Udovenko, meanwhile, expressed disappointment over the decline in bilateral trade, caused mainly by Russian customs duties on Ukrainian sugar and alcohol and excise taxes on other Ukrainian exports. Chernomyrdin agreed only to ask Russia’s economic ministries to "clarify these matters." Primakov made a passing swipe at the NATO-sponsored Sea Breeze-97 naval exercise in Ukraine.

The Russian side agreed with Udovenko on the need to speed up parliamentary ratification of the interstate treaty signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma on May 31. This would seem to amount to a signal to Russia’s Duma, whose approval of the treaty is far from certain. It was further agreed in principle that Kuchma would pay an official visit to Moscow sometime in January or February. (Russian agencies, August 26-27)

Although the meeting’s purpose was to review bilateral relations since the signing of the Yeltsin-Kuchma treaty, the talks stumbled on issues that predate the treaty. Moscow has resisted the delimitation and demarcation of borders with Ukraine — as with the other neighboring ex-Soviet countries — and departed from the 1995 free trade agreement with Ukraine in the interest of Russian producers. However, the August 26-27 talks marked an advance from abstract to practical discussions and an improvement in the atmospherics and psychology of relations in comparison to similar meetings held before the signing of the Black Sea Fleet agreement and the interstate treaty.

Udovenko in particular cast the Moscow meeting in the best possible light. He also hinted that one reason for his effort is related to Ukraine’s relations with the West. "Wherever President Kuchma meets with foreign leaders or ministers, the first question is: ‘What are your relations with Russia?’ When we say that ‘such and such documents have been signed,’ the response is indeed very positive from the world community. In this vein we agreed today to continue energetically to cooperate in every area." (Federal News Service, August 27)

Inter-Tajik Political Agreement Not Yet Taking Effect.