On a three-day visit to Georgia, during which he conferred with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Ukrainian prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko and officials accompanying him concluded a set of far-reaching agreements with their Georgian counterparts. The agreements come amid an accelerating political rapprochement between the two countries.
The talks focused on Ukrainian imports of Caspian oil through Georgia, and on Ukraine’s participation in creating a proposed transit corridor of highway, rail, maritime, and air routes from Central Asia across the Transcaucasus to Europe. The sides decided in the near term to begin transportation of crude oil and liquefied gas from Azerbaijan via Georgia and the Black Sea to Ukraine. They set up a joint commission to submit within a few months the plans for, among other things, the use of pipeline and overland routes from Baku (Azerbaijan) to Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Poti and/or Batumi. They also agreed to the immediate establishment of a ferry link from Poti to Illichivsk, the roll-on-roll-off ferryboat port near Odessa.
The Ukrainian side stressed its interest in joining the recent agreement among Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan on transit facilities and preferential tariffs along the route from Central Asia to the Black Sea. It was agreed that Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma will join Shevardnadze and Azerbaijani president Haidar Aliev in a common proposal to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to allocate credits for transporting Caspian fuels to Europe and for creating the transit corridor.
A set of military agreements was also signed. They envisage Ukrainian training of Georgian officers, technical assistance in equipping military airports and ensuring their security, and unspecified "interaction" among the two navies. Georgian state minister (Lazarenko’s counterpart as Georgia’s equivalent of a prime minister) Niko Lekishvili made a statement "supporting Ukraine’s just position" on the partition of the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine’s flagship Hetman Sahaydachny is currently paying a visit to Poti, the second Ukrainian naval visit to Georgia in the space of two months. Officials spoke of a "special relationship" developing between the two countries. (Interfax-Ukraine, November 4 and 5)
Lazarenko stated the obvious when he pointed out that fuel imports from the Transcaucasus would reduce Ukraine’s dependence on Russian fuel supplies. Ukraine’s goal meets Georgia’s no less vital interest in promoting the westward route for a large share of the Caspian oil, as opposed to the northward route through Russia. Georgia, moreover, seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian military assistance in the creation of its national army, and is increasingly turning to Ukraine for support. Yesterday’s set of military agreements follows one signed last month in Kiev. Ukraine has endorsed Georgia’s claim to a share of Black Sea Fleet coast guard-type warships, and yesterday’s talks presage a longer-term alignment between the two countries on contentious Black Sea issues.
Moscow Continues Double Dealing on Abkhazia.