Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yeltsin, Kravchuk Meet at Kremlin Oil Deal Seems in Place, but Russian and Ukrainian Leaders Still Face Old Attitudes, Recent Fractious History

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yeltsin, Kravchuk Meet at Kremlin Oil Deal Seems in Place, but Russian and Ukrainian Leaders Still Face Old Attitudes, Recent Fractious History

Article excerpt

WHEN Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kravchuk meet in the Kremlin today, they are likely to find that closer ties between the two Slavic states will require changing old attitudes.

Relations between the two largest members of the Commonwealth of Independent States have been strained most of the time since the Soviet Union's demise in December 1991. Bilateral agreements reached often have not held for long.

"In Russia and in Ukraine there are extremist forces with nationalist views that are big obstacles to creating normal bilateral relations," says Vadim Dolganov, press attache at Ukraine's Embassy in Moscow.

Both Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Kravchuk are under pressure - mainly because of the disastrous conditions of both economies - to bridge gaps dividing the neighboring nations. These include disputes over bilateral trade, nuclear disarmament and foreign debt repayment. If Russia and Ukraine forged a working relationship, officials say, they could fix their economic problems much faster than if they go separate ways. Common ground elusive

Despite that compelling reason to put aside past differences, the prospect of finding common ground during today's summit is by no means guaranteed.

Attitudes that pervade the relationship, which for centuries has given Russia senior-partner status, have been slow to change - something Ukrainians remain sensitive to.

"To a certain extent the problem is that some in Russia don't take Ukrainian independence seriously," Mr. Dolganov says. "But it's also a problem that Ukrainian officials aren't used to acting independently. In the past they always looked to Moscow for decisions."

Since achieving independence, Ukrainian officials have insisted on being treated as an equal partner, while some Russian officials continue to display an "older brother" posture.

Viktor Aksyuchits, for example, a nationalist member of the Russian parliament, says only the western Ukraine that belonged to Poland before World War II is entitled to be independent. "All other {Ukrainian} territories are closely linked to Russia, whether we like it or not," he says.

Even without such attitudes, solving the key differences that divide Russia and Ukraine will be difficult because of their complex nature, political observers say.

Of prime concern for Ukrainians is coming to terms on economic issues. Ukraine depends on Russia for more than 90 percent of its oil supplies and is eager to secure a deal to ensure future deliveries. Ukrainian officials, however, say Russia has promised Ukraine only one-sixth of the 45 million metric tons of oil that Kiev needs to keep its shaky economy going in 1993. Oil deal is reached

Still, Ukrainian Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Viktor Chernomyrdin did reach a preliminary deal on oil shipments yesterday during talks in Moscow. Earlier, Mr. Kuchma had proposed forming an "oil union." Under such a deal Ukraine would share the cost of developing the vast Siberian oilfields, the Tass news agency reports. Kuchma had warned that if the Ukraine could not reach a deal on access to oil, it might raise prices for transporting Russian goods across Ukraine.

Yet perhaps the most contentious issue between the two states remains nuclear disarmament. Ukraine has rankled not only Russia but other world nuclear powers, particularly the United States, by being slow to ratify the START I nuclear disarmament treaty. …

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