Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 220

Russian president Boris Yeltsin devoted his weekly radio address on November 21 to the subject of Russian-Ukrainian relations. Reviewing the "no-necktie summit" he had held several days earlier with Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, Yeltsin described it as heralding "the long-awaited change in relations between Russia and Ukraine" and declared that "relations are now on the upswing." In a passage that will go down particularly well in Kyiv, Yeltsin disavowed "Russian politicians who often go to Ukraine with inflammatory speeches… No one is allowed to pit Russia and Ukraine against each other," the Russian president admonished. The remark was clearly alluding to Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and Duma ultranationalists such as Sergei Baburin.

In other remarks, Yeltsin made an even-handed reference to the Russian diaspora in Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora in Russia, and anticipated steady Russian gas supplies to Ukraine this winter. Referring to a story by Nikolai Gogol — a writer claimed by both nations, Yeltsin also cautioned both peoples against imitating the two characters who destroy their friendship through quarrels. In a folksy coda to his speech he urged Russians to root for Ukrainian sportsmen in international competitions "as we would root for our own."

But in the same address, Yeltsin recalled nostalgically that "not so long ago we had a single economic system. Russians and Ukrainians lived as if in a communal apartment. Our separation was painful." Also "stinging to us" were Ukraine’s recent naval exercises with NATO countries in the Black Sea. Yeltsin went on to disapprove of "some [Ukrainians] who even took it into their heads to divide our common history." This is a reproach often heard even from liberal Russians, and it is one that reflects a reluctance to accept fully a distinct Ukrainian nationhood. Yeltsin called for creating joint ventures through Russian capital investment in Ukraine’s energy sector and other industries, and he urged Ukraine to "cooperate more actively with Russia in the CIS… to change the very face of the CIS." (Radio Russia, November 21)

The address on the whole reflects the current effort on both sides to improve the political atmosphere and economic relations between them. Its inconsistencies illustrate the contradictory nature of that trend, including official Moscow’s residual psychological difficulties in accepting Ukraine’s choice to leave the former communal apartment. On balance, the tenor of official bilateral relations has improved markedly in recent months and is likely to grow warmer in the runup to the official summit in February and Ukraine’s parliamentary elections in March. The Kremlin would certainly want to prevent a Red victory in the Ukrainian elections, and appears to have decided that it has no choice but to facilitate electoral success for Kuchma’s camp. (See Monitor, November 18-19)

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