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Year of Ukrainian-Russian Understanding

04 December, 00:00

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has decided to proclaim 2002 as the year of Ukraine in the Russian Federation. The Russian leader explained his decision by the necessity “to develop Russian- Ukrainian relations and expand ties in the sphere of research, education, and culture.”

“The year of Ukraine in Russia will mean very many things,” thus Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation in Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin mysteriously commented on this decision of his president. The Ukrainian Cossack general (Ambassador Chernomyrdin was awarded this honor the week before last) emphasized that such a year would allow the two countries to know each other still better. Mr. Chernomyrdin confessed that, being sure of his perfect knowledge of Ukraine, he understood how little he knew our state only when he became ambassador. “The decision to proclaim 2002 as the year of Ukraine in Russia was made so that we came to know each other better in all areas,” Mr. Chernomyrdin concluded. “We want Ukraine to be widely represented in Russia and Ukrainian representatives to be able to visit and study the capabilities of Russian regions,” he said.

The new Russian leadership has been projecting the image of a team of pragmatists. This team led by President Putin has concluded, as many Russians believe today, that Ukraine should be treated as a very close and friendly but still separate state. In other words, the point is to implement the slogan of Boris Yeltsin who called for thinking “What have I done for Ukraine?” when Russians get up in the morning. It would be wrong to reproach Moscow that Russia decided to study Ukraine better as late as the tenth year of independence: better late than never. Moreover, the two countries will still have to cooperate for more than one decade, whether one likes it or not.

Pragmatism seems to be yielding its first fruits. On the one hand, the two sides have marked the way toward solution of the gas-related problems, delimited the other day the Ukrainian-Russian land border, and have been arranging far more meetings between their presidents and other top officials.

Quite interesting looks the backdrop, against which the Russian leader decided to hold the coming year of Ukraine. First, relations between Moscow and Washington are developing full speed ahead. Secondly, in its cooperation with NATO, the Kremlin has approached the latter at a hitherto- unimaginable distance, while Ukraine can only watch and study the situation with not always well hidden envy. Mr. Chernomyrdin reassured one and all that warmer relations between Russia and the North Atlantic alliance would in no way affect relations with Ukraine. “Our relations depend on ourselves only,” he pointed out, emphasizing the improved quality of these relations. Yet, “one does not exclude the other,” the Russian ambassador said, meaning the development of the CIS, which held a jubilee summit on November 30. In Mr. Chernomyrdin’s view, CIS membership need not preclude its member states from trying to join the EU. He thinks that “achievements within the Commonwealth framework” will only contribute to this. But simultaneously “we are not yet prepared to live according to the rules of the European Union.” As to other post-Soviet regional organizations like GUUAM and the Eurasian Economic Union, the Russian ambassador foresees no problems between them.

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