At a two-day meeting in Tbilisi, Presidents Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine and Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, together with their respective defense ministers, agreed on measures to expand security cooperation between their countries. They decided that Ukraine will give Georgia, gratis, "several modern naval cutters," associated naval equipment, and assistance for port construction. Kyiv will also offer in international forums to contribute Ukrainian troops for UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia, as well as to join the UN military observers’ group there and the OSCE mission in Georgia. Kuchma endorsed Tbilisi’s claims to a share of the ex-USSR’s Black Sea Fleet and to compensation for ex-Soviet military equipment unilaterally removed from Georgia to Russia (see item above).
Defense Ministers Oleksandr Kuzmuk and Vardiko Nadibaidze agreed to create a Ukrainian-Georgian joint battalion, establish regular contacts between military service staffs, and initiate Georgian participation in Ukrainian military exercises — beginning with an air defense exercise about to be held in Ukraine. The ministers also considered a program to repair and upgrade Ukraine’s aging SU-25 fighter-bombers at an aircraft plant near Tbilisi, as well as the possible acquisition by Ukraine of the plane’s upgraded version, which was successfully tested at that plant.
The sides also agreed on bilateral cooperation in the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Shevardnadze welcomed Ukraine’s special partnership with NATO, and Kuchma declared that the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity is a prerequisite for stability in the Caucasus. The presidents’ joint declaration added that "the sides will never deviate from the policy of national independence." Georgian parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania for his part stated that "the emergence of an independent Ukraine has changed the atmosphere in the entire [ex-Soviet] region" and constitutes "one of the pillars of Georgia’s own independence."
The two sides also focused on a project to establish a modern ferry line of large capacity from Poti (Georgia) across the Black Sea to Ilichivsk (near Odessa in Ukraine) as part of the international TRACECA project. Kuchma and Shevardnadze declared their countries’ "vital interest" in TRACECA, also remarking that their two countries are "key links" in the project. (Ukrainian agencies, October 28-29) The planned corridor, which is the shortest Asia-Europe route and bypasses Russia, would free Ukraine and Georgia from their dependence on Russian transport routes, enable Kyiv to import Caspian oil as an alternative to Russian, and turn Georgia into a major transit route for the Europe-Central Asia trade. Last week, Kyiv and the European Union signed an agreement on technical assistance to Ukraine to develop the ferry line and other components of TRACECA.
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