Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Russia Cements Ukraine Ties With New Deals
KIEV, Ukraine -- President Dmitry Medvedev Monday sealed Russia's lightning quick rapprochement with Ukraine's new leadership with a raft of new accords as he paid his first official visit to the country.
Medvedev said a reestablishing of cordial relations should be a signal for businesspeople from the two countries to expand ties and create joint companies as the two nations were quickly moving to put the past behind them.
"We are open to mutual investments, an epoch of the witch hunt has passed," Medvedev said at a joint news conference with Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych.
The Kremlin has complained that under Yanukovych's predecessor, the fiercely pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko, Russian business was sidelined in Ukraine.
From now on the mutual investments will be protected, Medvedev said.
The talks in Kiev were the seventh meeting between Medvedev and Yanukovych since the new Ukrainian president won February elections on pledges to improve ties with Russia.
The two leaders stunned observers last month when they signed an agreement prolonging the stay of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine for another quarter century in exchange for over 40 billion dollars in gas subsidies, a deal that infuriated Ukrainian nationalists.
The two leaders oversaw the signing of several deals, including accords on border demarcation and satellite navigation, saying more economic agreements, including in the nuclear and energy industries, were in the pipeline.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in late April floated merging the two countries' nuclear industries into one giant holding and, even more astonishing, merging their state gas companies.
"Finally there is a worthy Ukrainian partner.... It is very important when your partner answers for his words and does not represent fickle political interests but the strategic interests of his nation," Medvedev said.
Since Yanukovych ousted the leaders of the pro-Western Orange Revolution in February's elections, he has unhesitatingly moved to repair ties that had slumped to a post-Soviet low in past years.
The developments mark a complete change from Yushchenko's presidency, when the passionately pro-West leader irritated Moscow so much the Kremlin refused to talk to him.
Yanukovych said the presidents agreed that their new-found friendship would not be used to gang up against other countries. "All decisions will be taken to protect our national interests," he said.
Yet there have been signs of limits emerging to the burgeoning cooperation.
Yanukovych said last week the merger between Ukraine's Naftogaz and Russia's far larger Gazprom would be a step too far for Kiev as Moscow would never accept the union to be one of equals.
Medvedev said after the talks that any cooperation should be done on equal terms.
"These should be absolutely pragmatic approaches, no philanthropy whatsoever, no unilateral decisions but full mutual benefits of these projects," he said.
"Only in this case will they be viable. Otherwise, one of the sides will feel offended and will not be engaged in the realisation."
Gazprom's chief Alexei Miller echoed that sentiment, saying Russia agreed with Ukraine that a possible unification of the two gas companies should be not only mutually beneficial but also "equally beneficial".
He declined to say however whether that meant a 50-50 merger.
The deal on the Black Sea Fleet was inked by Yanukovych and Medvedev in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv but this is the first time the Russian president has made an official visit to Kiev.
In the most symbolic moment of Medvedev's visit, the president paid homage to victims of a mass famine in Soviet Ukraine, in a rare Russian tribute to the victims of a catastrophe that has caused tensions in modern times.
Medvedev placed a candle in a clay pot at a monument to the millions of Ukrainians who died of starvation between 1921 and 1947 during the famine known in Ukraine as the Holodomor.