UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS CLARIFY MILITARY RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA AND NATO.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 26

As anticipated (see the Monitor, January 22), the Ukrainian-Russian military “agreements,” discussed during Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev’s recent visit to Kyiv, are for the most part not the done deals which Moscow made them out to be. Nor have they intruded as yet into the sphere of Ukraine-NATO relations, though a potential for such intrusion does seem inherent in some of Kyiv’s concessions.

In the wake of that visit, some Russian and Ukrainian military officials have hinted at what Sergeev failed to obtain. Kyiv turned down the demands to: (1) supply information on movements of warships of NATO member countries in Ukraine’s territorial waters; (2) allow Russian forces in the Crimea to deploy new weapons systems without requesting Ukraine’s consent–which is currently required–but merely by “informing” Ukraine about the fact; (3) renounce Ukraine’s right of inspecting Russian weapons systems such as tactical aircraft in order to verify the removal of gear capable of carrying nuclear ammunition; (4) introduce favorable customs regulations for supply cargoes delivered from Russia to the Crimean bases of the Russian navy; (5) grant Russian servicemen the right to stay in the Crimea after retirement and receive their Russian pensions there; (6) recognize Russian ownership of installations in and around Sevastopol, built with Russian funds on Ukrainian land plots rented since 1992.

On January 30, the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s chief spokesman Ihor Hrushko confirmed that Sergeev had proposed creating a joint Russian-Ukrainian combat naval squadron, and that Kyiv countered with the suggestion to create a search-and-rescue naval unit which would assist any ships and planes in distress–for example, during storms. Agreement on that matter was reached “in principle,” subject to follow-up negotiations. Citing the absence of any Ukrainian-Russian agreement on common defense or the common use of military forces, the Foreign Affairs Ministry ruled out the creation of a joint combat naval squadron. Hrushko, however, did confirm that Moscow seeks a bilateral agreement on naval cooperation and that Ukraine has agreed to enter into consultations with Russia on the matter. According to the Ukrainian naval command’s official spokesman, those consultations are for the moment limited to drafting the documents on the search-and-rescue unit.

Another agreement “in principle” was reached on creating a joint Ukrainian-Russian unit to guide ships’ movements to Sevastopol and other naval harbors. Top Ukrainian officials have assured American representatives that such a unit would not be authorized to allow or prohibit the entry of foreign ships to those harbors. The Ukrainian officials insist as before that Ukraine alone holds such authority as the sovereign state in the Crimea. Yet any bilateral agreement with Russia on that matter could well generate ambiguities and conflicting interpretations, potentially altering the status quo to the detriment of Ukraine and her Western partners in the Black Sea.

Sergeev’s most palpable success in Kyiv was the Ukrainian consent to Russia’s participation in the advance planning of NATO exercises on Ukrainian territory. Moscow took immediate advantage of that opportunity at the January 30-31 planning conference in Odesa for the NATO-led Sea Breeze-2001 exercise. Russia has in principle consented, for the first time, to participate in this year’s Sea Breeze. But at the planning conference, the Russian Black Sea Fleet command objected to certain aspects of the upcoming exercise–for example, the use of some venues “too close to Russian installations” and an “uninteresting” role reserved for Russian units. On that basis, the command warned that Russia might well drop the intention to participate in the exercise. The warning appears designed to affect the value of the exercise by exploiting NATO’s and Ukraine’s desire to ensure Russian participation as a token of political goodwill.

A spate of stories in the Moscow media have claimed that President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian officials are giving favorable consideration to proposals for joint Russian-Ukrainian production of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk and Kuchma’s senior adviser Volodymyr Horbulin–who currently heads the top supervisory commission for the defense industry–have dismissed those Russian media stories. The allegations surfaced in the wake of Marshal Sergeev’s Kyiv visit and ahead of Kuchma’s upcoming meeting in Dnipropetrovsk with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They appeared designed to sow doubt in the West regarding Ukraine’s commitment to observing international treaties on strategic arms control and on nonproliferation of missile and nuclear technologies.

Meanwhile, Kuchma and the Ukrainian Defense Ministry have announced the signing of two major presidential documents on cooperation with NATO. The first is a decree which institutes “national coordinators” on Ukraine-NATO relations, defining the coordinators’ powers and respective spheres of authority. Essentially, heads and other senior officials of state agencies are being put in charge of specific functional aspects of Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO. The second decree confers official status on the State Program for Ukraine’s Cooperation with NATO in 2001-2004 and instructs the government to proceed with the program’s implementation.

Both decrees proceed from the Ukraine-NATO Charter of Distinctive Partnership, which was signed in 1997 and has successfully been implemented thus far. However, Ukraine’s ability to continue along this path and also to resist self-damaging concessions to Russia in the military sphere will largely depend on the internal political position of the beleaguered Kuchma administration. There is every sign that Moscow will seek–as did Sergeev on his visit–to exploit Kuchma’s deteriorating internal position in the hope of extracting military and economic concessions (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozrenie, January 26-February 2; UNIAN, January 29-31, February 5; Zerkalo Nedeli, February 3).

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