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5 Mar, 2010 13:15

End of “bad streak” in Russian-Ukrainian relations - Medvedev

President Dmitry Medvedev said he hopes that with the election of Viktor Yanukovich, the “bad streak” in Russian-Ukrainian relations has finally come to an end.

Yanukovich, who is making his first trip to Russia as the Ukrainian leader, met with President Medvedev on Friday for discussions on a wide range of issues.

“I hope that with Ukraine getting a new president, relations between our countries will acquire a qualitatively new dynamic, become essentially closer and will be based on good feelings and pragmatism,” Medvedev said.

His words were echoed by Viktor Yanukovich. The president of Ukraine stressed that he also hopes that relations between the two states will take a sharp turn in the right direction.

The ties suffered greatly during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko. Both Russian and Ukrainian leaders agreed that it’s time to fulfill the expectations of their people, who want to see relations restored.

Yanukovich expressed confidence that Russia and Ukraine’s combined capabilities will “create such an effect of synergy that it will let our two countries raise their economies to a new level.”

“I think we have a lot to share with each other,” he said, adding that he sees as his goal catching up with Russia in terms of socioeconomic development.

Medvedev wished Yanukovich luck – and the success of one the closest states to Russia depends on it.

He also noted that Moscow wants to see economic development and political stability in Ukraine, adding that Russia is ready to support Kiev’s interests in such international groups as the G8 and the G20 and in financial organizations.

Medvedev is expected to visit Ukraine in the first half of this year.

"The Ukrainian president and I agreed that a serious impetus must be given to the bilateral political dialogue," said the Russian leader.

Yanukovich said he hopes that before Medvedev arrives in Ukraine, representatives of both countries will be able to prepare a detailed action plan to tackle issues that have seen little progress in recent years. Those include the problem of Russia's Black Sea Fleet and relations in the gas sector.

“It’s is something our nations and partners are looking forward to,” he added, saying that relations between Russia and Ukraine influence the European and global economy.

“All roads lead to Moscow”

Shortly after his presidential inauguration on February 25, Yanukovich set off for Brussels, his first foreign trip. Quite predictably, journalists in Moscow asked the Ukrainian leader why he made the decision to visit Brussels ahead of Moscow for his first trip and what Russia’s place in Ukraine’s foreign policy is.

The Ukrainian president’s response is classic in its simplicity.

“Well, I went to Brussels first because I was invited to Brussels on March 1,” Yanukovich responded. “And I was invited to Russia on March 5, so I couldn’t do it any other way.”

He then turned his attention to the Russian president.

“Dmitry Medvedev – both as president and a human being – understands that those first days in office for a president of any country are always difficult from the point of choosing where to go and so on,” Yanukovich said. “So, I am just learning now, gaining experience,” he said, laughing.

“But…all roads lead to Moscow.”

Ukraine-NATO relations

The conversation then became more serious as the question of Ukrainian membership in NATO – a goal that Yanukovich’s predecessor Yushchenko had long pursued – surfaced.

"As for NATO, I have answered this question a lot of times, Ukraine, as a non-aligned European state, will be building its relations with NATO in line with Ukraine's national interests. And it will always be so," he told journalists.

Earlier on Thursday Yanukovich claimed that Ukraine is not going to join the Alliance, although is going to develop the relationship with NATO.

"We are not considering entering the Alliance,” Ukrainian president told Russian news “Vesti 24” TV-channel. “The relationship we have, and its depth, is enough for now for building partnership relations with NATO. And we are not going to destroy it”.

“The Ukrainian-NATO relations are not deeper than Russian-Ukrainian relations,” he added.

At the same time, on March 3 NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed hope to have a meeting with Ukrainian President. The Alliance’s attitude toward Ukraine remains unchanged, he said.

Settlement over Black Sea fleet expected “soon”

Victor Yanukovich assured that Ukraine and Russia may soon reach an agreement over Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which is based in Ukrainian Sevastopol.

Russia has a leasing agreement to use the naval base until 2017. Some political forces in Ukraine, including Yanukovich’s predecessor, have pushed for the agreement to be scrapped after it expires, or even called for its early termination.

“The issue has a long history, and we’ve always negotiated it on the presidential level. And peoples of both Russian and Ukraine treated it with understanding. I think we’ll do now in the same way,” the Ukrainian president said.

He added the problem was complex, but promised that an agreeable solution suitable for both parties will be found soon.

Nazi collaborator Bandera's "hero" status

While discussing Russian-Ukrainian relations on Friday, Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovich touched upon the controversial decision by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to award a posthumous title of “national hero” to Stepan Bandera, the leader of Ukrainian nationalists who was collaborating with Nazi Germany.

After Yushchenko signed the decree in January, and this sparked heated debates in Kiev and Moscow, as well as other capitals.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich reassured Medvedev that Yushchenko’s “hero” decree would be cancelled, and possibly before May, when Russia will host celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of victory in World War II.

"There is a legal process, and currently Ukraine is undergoing it," Yanukovich told reporters. "There is also a political process. I believe that the decision is to be taken by V-Day."

The Ukrainian president added that Yuchshenko’s decision concerning Bandera “is not accepted in Ukraine, nor in Europe,” reminding that the European Parliament also called for the annulment of the decision.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed that Russia and Ukraine coordinate joint celebrations in remembrance of their common victory in the last world war.

“Our veterans maintain active ties with Ukrainian veterans and it is our duty to do all we can in order to help them to cerebrate this day,” Medvedev suggested. The Russian president then made reference to a proposal forwarded by the Ukrainian side that would bring together war veterans from both countries to take part in the celebrations together.

“We will consider that idea that looks very promising especially if other countries will join this project,” Medvedev added.

Leaders pledge to protect rights of ethnic minorities

During his presidential campaign, President Yanukovich promised to make Russian the second state language in order to protect the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority. On Friday, he repeated those plans, telling the Russian president that the respective legislation will be passed in the nearest future.

"The rights of Russian speakers should be protected. I will fulfill my program pledges to settle this question shortly," Yanukovich said. “I am sure that Ukrainian people are as wise as the Russian. They realize how important it is to create comfortable conditions for all nationalities residing in Ukraine, including the large Russian-speaking population.”

Dmitry Medvedev, for his part, pledged that Russia would devote more attention to Ukrainian speakers.

“If we are concerned about the situation with Russian language in the neighboring countries, we should also look at our own country: what do we do about the Ukrainian language? Have we provided conditions in the Russian Federation for learning the Ukrainian language? And what does our information space look like,” Medvedev asked.

The Russian president then passed along some good news for the Ukrainian diaspora living in Russia.

Russia will soon be switching to digital broadcast technology, and as part of that project it will have broadcasts from neighboring states, including one or two Ukrainian channels, Medvedev said.

Energy issues

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovich have ordered the governments of their mutual countries to discuss energy relations.

But one of the most important issues between Russia and Ukraine – the price of Russian natural gas for Ukraine – was not on the table on Friday, according to Russian Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko. This issue may be discussed once the new Ukrainian government is formed, Shmatko told journalists.

During his presidential campaign, Viktor Yanukovich promised to petition Russia for lower gas prices, which many people in Ukraine, that is struggling through a severe economic downturn, consider to be too high.

In November 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko reached an agreement on gas prices, narrowly avoiding another gas crisis.

In 2010, Ukraine pays for Russian gas according to market price with no discount, and tariffs for Russian gas transits through Ukrainian territory saw an increase of 60% on last year's levels.

Invitation to the Customs Union

Later on Friday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held a meeting with the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich. Speaking about cooperation between the two countries, he said that he is certain about the great potential of cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, and not only in the energy sphere.

“Ukraine and Russia have great potential not only in energy, although in this sphere we also are able to build normal civilized relations, move forward together, including work on the third countries markets,” Putin stated during the meeting. “We have to do everything to restore something we might have lost over the last five years and to outline perspectives in the sphere of innovations,” the Prime Minister added.

He emphasized that Russia and Ukraine are closely tied by cooperation in machinery manufacturing, aircraft engineering, energetic and agriculture.

“There is a lot to do to make up for what was lost or even destroyed,” Putin said.

As an example, he brought up the fact that over the last year sales turnover between the two countries decreased by 40% and made only $22.9 billion, in part because of the economic recession.

Russia’s Prime Minister invited Ukraine to join the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. He made this proposition to his Ukrainian counterpart.

“Now the internal and external policy of Ukraine will be seriously corrected. We want to change it drastically, make a sharp turn in our relationship,” said Yanukovich.

“Join the Customs Union,” suggested Putin in response.