Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 183

On September 30, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma released Foreign Affairs Minister Borys Tarasyuk from his post, replacing him with Anatoly Zlenko, a former minister of foreign affairs (1990-94) and ambassador to the UN (1994-97) and to France (1997 to date). Zlenko’s record in office is an encouraging one, but lacks Tarasyuk’s shine.

Tarasyuk, a career diplomat, was the most outspokenly pro-Western member of the Ukrainian cabinet during his two years as minister. He had earlier served as envoy in Brussels and chief of Ukraine’s mission to NATO, was an architect of Ukraine’s highly successful partnership with the Atlantic Alliance, and energetically promoted his country’s relations with the United States, Western Europe and neighboring Poland in his successive capacities as first deputy minister and minister. His public statements frequently emphasized Ukraine’s European identity and a vision of the nation’s future in association with the West. During those years (1995-2000), Tarasyuk acted on Kuchma’s instructions and implemented the president’s policies, sometimes moving a step or two ahead of the president in the articulation of those policies, but always covered by the president’s authority in implementing the policies.

Kuchma is being vague about the reasons behind his decision to release Tarasyuk. But the president seems to be hinting that he needs at this stage is a figure more accommodating to Russia. While offering lukewarm praise for Tarasyuk’s performance, Kuchma stopped short of listing Tarasyuk’s merits in developing relations with NATO and the United States. He remarked that Ukraine now needs a minister capable of saying more than “simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to partner countries,” and that Ukraine’s relations with Moscow need to be “evened out.”

Introducing Tarasyuk’s successor to the ministry’s staff, Kuchma further remarked that Ukraine “must find a better formula for relations with Russia. Those relations must be geared to cooperation, not confrontation, and they must in no way be regarded as secondary in importance.” Kuchma stopped short of saying that Tarasyuk was being “confrontational” vis-a-vis Moscow; yet that had been the view in Moscow for some time–a view which Tarasyuk had more than once refuted successfully and with Kuchma’s implicit support. That support has now apparently been withdrawn.

The president’s move was by all evidence coordinated in advance with Verkhovna Rada Chairman Ivan Plyushch. The speaker, who is also a Western-oriented figure, candidly declared, “The state of Ukraine’s economy does not allow the country to spend a winter without Russia.”

In replacing the minister, Kuchma offered assurances that Ukraine’s policies will not change. Such assurances are required and expected in this type of situation. Only the follow-up moves will tell (UNIAN, DINAU, Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), AP, September 30-October 2).