Ukraine seeks practical cooperation with Russia in games of balance

13:14, November 27, 2010      

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich discussed a wide range of issues in a three-hour meeting here on Friday.

The two sides also sealed several agreements, in an apparent effort to further boost pragmatic cooperation and upgrade bilateral ties. However, the gas issue, a cornerstone of bilateral economic relations, remains unsolved.

FREQUENT MEETINGS BETWEEN TOP LEADERS

This has been the tenth meeting between Medvedev and Yanukovich this year, while Yanukovich has pledged to meet with Medvedev twice more before the yearend.

The two presidents mainly talked about economic cooperation in a positive sphere, including investment, oil, nuclear energy, space technology and agriculture.

During the first ten months of this year, trade volume between Russia and Ukraine jumped by nearly 75 percent year-on-year, to 19 billion U.S. dollars, which prompted the Ukrainian leader to eye a higher target of 40 billion dollars.

As Medvedev put it, Russian and Ukrainian companies have been highly dependent on each other since Soviet times. He also called the investment climate between the two countries "favorable."

Besides, the two sides agreed to draft a new strategic treaty " filled with a real sense," according to Yanukovich.

"Ukraine's president and I have been trying to compensate all that was lost in the previous years," Medvedev said.

Speaking of the reasons behind Ukraine's friendly gestures, a Kiev-based political analyst, Andrei Tomsky, pointed out "a chronic lack of money" of the Ukrainian establishment.

"Kiev now has been begging for support from Moscow the same way it used to beg from the West. Both parties demonstrate their good will, maybe even a bit over-eagerly," said the expert in a Friday interview with Xinhua.

Another expert from Moscow's Carnegie Center echoed such a view.

"Economic situation in Ukraine has been near-critical. Kiev eyes Russia as a possible source of long-term financial aid but Ukrainian leaders realize they will have to make some concessions in return," Andrei Ryabov told Xinhua.

GAS DISPUTE

On the gas issue, which is both countries' major concern, Yanukovich tried to sound as friendly as possible by pledging to be a "reliable partner" for Russia, though he also said that disputes in this sector would not be resolved quickly.

"The gas issue has never been easy ... There are tactical and strategic aspects. We will not find a solution quickly, but when it is found, it must meet the interests of Ukraine and Russia and help them recover from the economic crisis," Yanukovich said.

"We will be searching for answers until the end of this year and we will find them," he said.

Yanukovich meanwhile promised that his country would not create any obstacles for Russian gas transit to Europe. He assured his Russian counterpart that Ukraine was "a reliable and predictable partner."

In turn, Medvedev promised to deal with Kiev "in a friendly manner."

"Russia is interested in acquiring or taking control of the gas transit system, the pearl of Ukrainian economy," Tomsky said.

However, "Yanukovich tried to say 'no' firmly when it comes to the most important issues like the control over gas pipelines. Not to irritate Moscow with his assertiveness, Yanukovich readily said 'yes' in those second-rated issues," Ryabov said.

GAME OF BALANCE

Unlike his pro-West predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, Yanukovich has always been promoting a principle of political nonalignment for his country's foreign policies, which means, neither too close to the West nor to neighboring Russia.

"The task of Yanukovich is getting more and more tricky: he has to keep a balance between Russia and the West while those tasks sometimes have been mutually exclusive," said Ryabov.

For instance, Yanukovich said Ukraine might join the tripartite Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, but only if the country's constitution could be amended.

"This is a sheer judicial excuse instead of a direct response from Kiev. If Yanukovich really wanted to make such a decision, the Ukrainian leadership would swiftly change the constitution and organize a referendum to approve it," Ryabov pointed out.

Yanukovich meanwhile insisted Russian-Ukrainian integration did not contradict European-Ukrainian rapprochement.

"It's not easy to say now what will be the depth of such integration," said the Ukrainian leader.

"Ukraine's leadership currently stays on the crossroads, as simultaneous membership in the European Union and the Customs Union is impossible," Tomsky said.

As for Russia, the country also tried to play a game of balance. But this time, Medvedev voiced understanding of Kiev's desire to stay non-affiliated with any blocs.

"If Ukraine joins NATO, it would destroy the security space in Europe. Ukraine's current nonalignment policy is absolutely justifiable," Medvedev noted, adding that it's up to Kiev to decide if Ukraine would join the EU.

"Russian leaders understand those games very well. They remember that pressing Kiev too strong would cause the opposite result. So Moscow employs a wait-and-see approach, from time to time playing a 'good cop-bad cop' game," Ryabov said.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:王寒露)

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