ROAR: Ukraine’s new foreign policy prioritizes Russia & EU

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Kiev is changing its policies towards Russia, but expects similar moves from Moscow, observers say.

Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers discussed in Moscow on March 16 concrete steps to improve relations between the two countries, which soured under the previous regime. In particular, Sergey Lavrov and Konstantin Grishchenko signed a ministerial cooperation plan for 2010.

Also, the third meeting of the interstate commission will be timed to coincide with President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Kiev. According to Lavrov, Russia wants “to catch up for what has been missed in recent years.”

Russia is also considering Kiev’s proposal to become the venue for the signing of a new strategic arms reduction treaty between Moscow and Washington. This idea was floated by newly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich during his visit to Moscow on March 5.

Lavrov spoke in favor of the proposal, but stressed that the time and venue for the signing have yet to be determined. “It is up to the presidents to decide when to sign it or where,” the minister said. The new START treaty will confirm guarantees for Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Lavrov added.

Some said that Grishchenko, a former ambassador to Russia, arrived in Moscow this time just to represent himself as the new foreign minister, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. Others argued that he was visiting Moscow with “a certain semi-secret mission.”“But the truth, as always, was somewhere in the middle,” the paper noted.

“Grishchenko chose the most appropriate time for his visit to Moscow, just two days before the arrival of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” the daily said. If the idea of making the Ukrainian capital the venue of the signing of the new START treaty is realized, it will give Kiev “the status of one of the key European capitals,” the paper noted.

“However, Ukraine will after that have much to do to retain this status, first of all reviving the national economy lying in ruins,” the daily said. “But Yanukovich’s initiative still proved to be very ambitious, and Moscow seems to be willing this time to help Kiev.”

The Czech capital is also among the cities that could become the venue for the meeting between the Russian and US presidents, where they may sign a historic pact, the daily said. A year ago US President Barack Obama was there to put forward an initiative on a significant reduction of the level of nuclear weapons in the world, it noted.

Kiev, in turn, says that Ukraine some time ago “abandoned nuclear weapons, the third in the world in terms of a number of warheads,” the paper said. That move was a good stimulus for other countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals, it added.

Russia appreciates the position taken by Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to abandon nuclear weapons after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Lavrov stressed during the meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Commenting on the perspectives of improving relations between Moscow and Kiev, many analysts highlight Grishchenko’s previous work as ambassador to Russia. He also headed the foreign ministry in 2003-2005 and “is considered an expert on the issues of European security, disarmament and cooperation within the Commonwealth of the Independent States,” Evgenia Voyko of the Center for Political Conjuncture said.

Observers also stress that Grishchenko will be instrumental in implementing ideas of Ukraine’s new president. “Strengthening presidential power will help Yanukovich to more actively conduct his own financial, economic and foreign policies to improve the critical economic situation in Ukraine and increase the country’s prestige in the eyes of foreign investors,” Voyko said.

Yanukovich has instructed Grishchenko to prepare proposals to the law on principles of domestic and foreign policy, adding that it is the law that the country “needs badly”. However, it seems that Grishchenko already has this type of program, Kommersant daily said, adding that its main part is building relations in the Moscow-Brussels-Washington triangle.

According to the plan, Russia will be a “priority”, but Ukraine’s strategic aim is to have closer ties with the EU and joining it in the end, the paper said, citing a source in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

At the same time, partnership with Russia is necessary for Ukraine, the source said, stressing that hi-tech industries link the two countries while “the EU mainly needs scrap metal and sunflowers from Ukraine.”

Kiev may also abandon military cooperation with Georgia and support of Tbilisi that was usual business under the previous regime in Kiev, the paper quoted the source as saying. Creating comfortable conditions for the Russian Black Sea Fleet is also possible, but Kiev expects something in return, the daily added.

Observers wonder if Yanukovich is ready to overturn moves toward NATO that were made during Viktor Yushchenko’s “Orange presidency.”

Politicians in Ukraine “are trying to combine incompatible things,” said Sergey Mikheev of the Center for Political Technologies. On the one hand, Yanukovich “wants to deliver on his promise that the country will not be moving towards NATO,” he told Actualcomment.ru website. On the other hand, “several programs already exist that makes Ukraine closer to NATO.”

Thus, Kiev is seeking a certain compromise, the analyst said. But, political practice in Ukraine is now more important, and the question is how cooperation with NATO will develop, he said.

Mikheev “does not understand” the intention of the new coalition in the Ukrainian parliament to adopt a law banning the country from joining military blocs. This principle is already stipulated by the country’s constitution, he said, adding that there is no need to write a special law.

Meanwhile, Yanukovich has decided to dismiss the commander of the Ukrainian Navy Igor Tenyukh, the media said. He opposed the extension of the lease for the fleet’s base in Sevastopol. Tenyukh will be replaced by his first deputy Viktor Maksimov.

The replacement of “an ultranationalist commander” is a positive factor for the situation concerning the Russian Fleet in Ukraine, believes military analyst Vladislav Shurygin.

At the same time, this situation will depend first of all on Russian-Ukrainian relations, the analyst told Actualcomment.ru. “Everything concerning the Black Sea Fleet will be determined by further steps that the two countries make toward each other,” he noted.

Sergey Borisov, RT