Ukraine’s Leader Visits Russia
MOSCOW – Ukraine’s newly inaugurated president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, arrived in Moscow on Friday promising a «sharp turn» in his country’s relations with Russia, five years after the Orange Revolution chilled formerly close ties between the two neighbors.
«The new government in Ukraine will change relations with Russia, so that they will never again be like they were for the last five years», Mr. Yanukovich said in a meeting with Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev.
At a news conference in the Kremlin, Mr. Medvedev, who had frequently clashed with Ukraine’s Western-oriented former president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, appeared pleased to be welcoming a Ukrainian ally to Russia once again.
«I hope that with your arrival and your work as president this black page in relations between Ukraine and the Russian Federation will be turned over, and we will see completely new conditions for cooperation», Mr. Medvedev said.
Little has irked the Kremlin more in recent years than Ukraine’s move away from Russia. Former President Yushchenko’s open support of Georgia in its August 2008 war with Russia, his push for NATO membership and his repeated threats to expel the Russian navy from its base in Ukraine’s Sevastopol enraged Russian officials.
Mr. Yanukovich, a native of Ukraine’s east, where linguistic and cultural ties to Russia are closest, has long been seen as the leader of his country’s pro-Russian forces. He narrowly defeated his rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, in elections last month, a victory that was expected to bring about an immediate thaw in relations with Russia.
But in a move that raised some eyebrows in Moscow, Mr. Yanukovich chose Brussels for his first official visit as president, telling European leaders earlier this week that he wanted to continue his predecessor’s efforts to forge stronger ties with the West.
Mr. Medvedev, however, said the visit would have no effect on Ukraine’s relationship with Russia.
The two leaders vowed to immediately begin seeking solutions to the problems that have plagued their relations, including the status of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and lingering border disputes.
Of particular importance is the transport of Russian natural gas through Ukrainian territory to Europe. Politically charged disputes over pricing have for years caused costly gas cutoffs that have at times left European homes without heat.
As he campaigned, Mr. Yanukovich suggested that he might allow Russia to share the management of Ukrainian pipelines in exchange for cheaper gas. The presidents said they discussed the issue but would not go into details, saying only that their governments would continue the talks.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who met later with Mr. Yanukovich, also addressed the issue, saying that Russia and Ukraine could build a «normal, civilized relationship and move forward», the Ria Novosti news agency reported.
Mr. Yanukovich, asked about his stance on NATO membership for Ukraine on Friday, simply said, «Ukraine will build its relations with NATO in accordance to the national interests of Ukraine».
Any major decisions concerning relations with Russia, however, will have to wait until a new government can be formed in Ukraine.
05/03/2010, the International Herald Tribune