Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko found time in their schedules to meet on the fringes of the St. Petersburg economic forum on June 10. They discussed measures to settle Moldova’s Transnistria issue, which they agreed not to make public, and said they would prepare a Russia-Ukraine action plan for signing some time later this year. The most interesting issue for the local media was the problem of entry bans, which have recently spoiled relations. It was not solved this time, however, as Kyiv and Moscow apparently agree to differ on this as well as many other issues.
No progress was achieved at another round of talks between respective governmental sub-commissions on the future of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF). Ukraine insists that the BSF should leave Crimea in 2017; it also wants Russia to pay more for leasing Ukrainian facilities for the BSF and to cede to Ukraine some hydrographic facilities that Ukrainian courts earlier ruled should belong to Ukraine. Russia does not agree on these points. “We have failed to find a common language,” Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko admitted after meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Kyiv on June 5.
Putin’s suggestion that Ukraine may be moving toward tyranny, which he made in his widely publicized interview about democracy on June 4, did not contribute to improving relations either. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is widely perceived as pro-Russian in the West, suggested diplomatically that Putin’s words should not affect relations. Yushchenko was less coy when, on June 6, he said, “We would not like anyone to comment on Ukraine’s domestic affairs.” Yushchenko’s aide on foreign relations, Oleksandr Chaly, told a press conference that even if Putin’s statement was a joke, it may still “entail consequences.”
The problem of mutual bans for politically active travelers was raised anew on June 5, when Ukraine did not allow International Eurasian Movement leader Alexander Dugin to enter Crimea, and Russia stopped Yushchenko’s humanitarian affairs aide, Mykola Zhulynsky, at the St. Petersburg airport. Dugin wanted to attend a Russian language forum in Crimea along with Duma member Konstantin Zatulin. Kyiv declared both men personae non gratae in June 2006 due to their participation in anti-NATO protests in southern Ukraine, when Sea Breeze, an international military exercise with U.S. participation, was disrupted. While Zatulin was banned from entering Ukraine for one year, the ban for Dugin is valid for five years, the Security Service of Ukraine explained on June 6.
Zhulynsky was sent back to Ukraine just several hours after Dugin was asked to return home. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry asked Moscow for an explanation, but none was provided. What’s more, Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin indirectly admitted to journalists on June 6 that this was a tit for tat reaction.
The incidents with Dugin and Zhulynsky were not the first of this kind. Zatulin has been declared persona non grata in Ukraine several times in the past for his statements on Crimea’s historical links to Russia, which is a very sensitive issue. In the wake of the anti-NATO protests in June 2006, Ukraine banned entry to several Russians, including the maverick nationalist parliamentarian Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky, far-left oppositionist Eduard Limonov, and journalist Mikhail Leontyev are also unwelcome in Ukraine. Businessman Petro Poroshenko, an ally of Yushchenko, was not allowed to enter Russia in February 2007, apparently without explanation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk in Moscow on June 7, recalled that several months earlier he had suggested that both countries abolish their respective “black lists” of unwelcome visitors. He received no reply to the initiative, Lavrov complained. Yatsenyuk, for his part, suggested that Russia should “teach its citizens and politicians” to respect their neighbors. As a concession, Yatsenyuk offered one-off entry permits for individuals temporarily banned from entering Ukraine.
As a result of the Lavrov-Yatsenyuk and Putin-Yushchenko meetings, Moscow and Kyiv agreed to set up a commission to discuss entry bans. To put it simply, they agreed to disagree. Yushchenko, commenting on relations with Russia on June 8, complained that “somebody” was only looking for pretexts to make Russia and Ukraine quarrel, and pledged to do his utmost to prevent bilateral relations from exacerbating.
Exacerbations, however, may be objectively in the interests of both Putin and Yushchenko. Selling Ukraine as an enemy to the electorate ahead of the crucial presidential election may contribute to an electoral success for Putin or his allies next year. This perfectly fits into the picture of fortress Russia surrounded by enemies, which Putin has been building for years, pursuing domestic political goals. Yushchenko’s party, Our Ukraine, for its part is preparing for a snap parliamentary election scheduled for September 30. Our Ukraine’s electorate is located mostly in western Ukraine, where people are traditionally wary of Russia, and tensions with Moscow may consolidate this electorate.
(RTR TV, June 4; Inter TV, June 5, 10; Interfax-Ukraine, June 6; UNIAN, June 6, 10; UT1, June 7, 8; Ukrayinska pravda, June 11)