Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 104

In a statement which does not bear the stamp of the pro-Western minister Borys Tarasyuk, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry yesterday chose polemics and evasion to dismiss U.S. government concerns that Ukrainian vessels may be making clandestine deliveries of Russian oil and oil products to Serbia via the Danube. Misattributing those concerns to “foreign mass media,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry rejected out of hand such “accusations” as “unfriendly acts aimed at discrediting Ukraine.” It went on to say that the government “has no information about oil transits through its territory by third parties,” is complying strictly with UN-authorized sanctions and “recommends” to Ukrainian companies to continue avoiding participation in deliveries of oil and oil products to the “conflict zone.”

In a more candid vein, Foreign Ministry official Ihor Hrushko declared that “Ukraine considers this to be a political embargo, and it is up to each country to decide whether to comply with it or not” (UNIAN, May 27; AP, May 26). Such a response would seem, in effect, to reserve freedom of action to disregard the embargo on oil and oil products to Serbia.

These statements attempted to address the concerns expressed on May 25 by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Pentagon regarding intelligence reports that Russian crude oil and oil products are being loaded onto Ukrainian vessels in Black Sea ports and transported by those vessels on the Danube to Serbian ports. Underscoring the great importance attached to this issue by the U.S. and NATO, Albright and Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said that Washington is taking the matter up with Kyiv. Albright even credited Ukraine with having responded “cooperatively” to initial inquiries (AP, Reuters, May 25-26).

Western governments may have to brace for continuing surprises of this sort from Ukraine as its presidential election draws closer. President Leonid Kuchma and his government have until recently taken calculated political risks in setting Ukraine on a pro-Western course. In this election year, however, they will go all out to make inroads into the country’s leftist and Russian electorate and to retain the indirect political support of the Russian government for Kuchma’s reelection over his Red opponents. But Kyiv would be ill-advised in this process to go overboard and pin–if only for internal consumption in parts of eastern Ukraine–the label “unfriendly” on its real friends.–VS