Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 18

The fate of the Russian-Ukrainian interstate treaty is being decided in Russia’s Federation Council today. Signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv almost two years ago, and ratified by the Ukrainian parliament, the treaty enshrines Ukraine’s existing borders and territorial integrity. In particular, it amounts to official Russian recognition of Ukraine’s title to the Crimea.

Mainly for that reason, Russia’s Duma had blocked ratification until December 25, 1998, when it voted to ratify the treaty. The vote passed by a thin margin, but did pass thanks to the Communist Party’s sudden reversal. Gennady Zyuganov and his comrades now argue that the cause of “helping” Russians in Crimea and “reintegrating” Russia and Ukraine is more effectively pursued through friendly relations with the Ukrainian state. Apart from such strategic considerations, the Russian communists’ shift on this issue is more immediately intended to help Ukraine’s Red forces in the upcoming presidential election. The Ukrainian communists and socialists had urged the Russian communists to approve the treaty.

Leading the fight in Russia’s Federation Council against the treaty is Moscow mayor and presidential aspirant Yuri Luzhkov, seconded by Konstantin Zatulin, director of a government-sponsored institute for relations with CIS countries and leader of the ultranationalist Derzhava [Great Power] movement. Symptomatically, “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” which CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky controls, printed an article yesterday by Zatulin which detailed the case against ratifying the treaty with Ukraine.

The Luzhkov-Zatulin position is: (1) that the 1954 transfer of Crimea from the Russian Federation to Ukraine (at that time the RSFSR and the Ukrainian SSR) was unlawful; (2) that Sevastopol was not included in that transfer; (3) that the present treaty would for the first time legalize those transfers, forfeiting Russia’s territorial “rights;” (4) that the treaty does not envisage machinery to protect the interests of Russians in Ukraine; (5) that it would enable Kyiv to evict Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from its Crimean bases, even to hand those bases over to the United States or Turkey; and (6) that ratification would ultimately “untie the hands” of Ukraine allowing it to join NATO (Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, January 22-26; Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 26). The recurrent reference to untying Ukraine’s hands implies that Russia would lose the chance to raise territorial demands as a deterrent to Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO.

Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, who originally supported ratification, has switched to a fence-sitting position. He now suggests the possibility of either postponing the vote or introducing some conditions to ratification. Stroev’s conditions would focus on the status of Sevastopol and on the interests of Ukraine’s 12-million-strong ethnic Russian population. Luzhkov recently implied that he might initiate such conditions in the chamber (see the Monitor, January 12).

Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin are pushing discreetly for ratification. First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov has become the most outspoken advocate, though he resists the Russia-Belarus Union. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is in touch with Russia’s Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov by telephone; and sent the Security Council’s Deputy Secretary Aleksandr Razumkov–a leading Ukrainian proponent of cooperation with Russia–to Moscow in order to lobby for treaty ratification (Itar-Tass, ORT, UNIAN, January 24-26).