WILL THE DUMA RATIFY RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN TREATY? State Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Georgii Tikhonov of the left-leaning Popular Power faction denounced the wide-ranging Russian-Ukrainian treaty and predicted that the Duma will reject it, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 3 June. Tikhonov argued that by renouncing territorial claims against Ukraine, Russia would clear the way for Ukraine to join NATO. "It is known that this military alliance does not accept countries that have territorial disputes with their neighbors," he explained. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko said many Duma deputies would object in particular to recognizing the Crimean port of Sevastopol as a Ukrainian city, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. However, Lukin predicted that the Duma would nonetheless ratify the treaty. Both State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev have said the Russian parliament will approve it.

UKRAINE, ROMANIA SIGN BASIC TREATY. Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Emil Constantinescu signed a basic bilateral treaty in the Black Sea resort of Neptun, near Constanta, on 2 June. The treaty stipulates that the countries' existing borders are "inviolable" and includes extensive references to the rights of national minorities. It does not mention the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, which led to the annexation of territories now belonging to the Ukraine in the 1940s, but does condemn past "unjust actions of totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships." This ambiguous formulation obliquely denounces both the Soviet-Nazi pact and Romania's participation under Marshal Ion Antonescu in the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The two countries' foreign ministers, Adrian Severin and Henadii Udovenko, exchanged letters detailing agreements on issues not mentioned in the basic document itself and on approaches to unsolved problems (see RFE/RL Newsline, 5 and 9 May 1997).

REACTIONS TO UKRAINIAN-ROMANIAN TREATY. Alluding to criticism in Romania about the country's perceived renunciation of territories now part of Ukraine, Constantinescu said "national interest" should be defined in terms of a future of "general European collaboration" rather than in terms of the past. Kuchma said both Ukrainians and Romanians were forced in the past to accept the incorporation of their territories into other countries but the new treaty opens "a common path toward the European community." He added that membership in that community is conditional on the recognition of existing frontiers. The three Romanian parliamentary opposition parties were invited to send representatives to the signing ceremony, but they boycotted the event. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of Greater Romania Party, said the day was one of "national mourning." In Bucharest, there was a small protest demonstration organized by five non-parliamentary parties. The EU welcomed the signing of the treaty, as did an unnamed NATO official cited by Radio Bucharest.

U.S. WELCOMES RUSSIA-UKRAINE ACCORD. State Department spokesman John Dinger told reporters on 2 June in Washington that the U.S. welcomes the political treaty signed by the Russian and Ukrainian presidents on 31 May as a move toward easing years of tension between the two nations. Dinger said the U.S. also welcomes the fact that each side has reaffirmed its commitment to respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

YELTSIN BRIEFS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT. Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 2 June briefed his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, about his recent activities. Belapan reported that Yeltsin told Lukashenka on the telephone about his recent trips to Ukraine and Paris. The two presidents also discussed the recent summit in Tallinn of the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, and Estonia as well as union between Belarus and Russia.

POPE HOPES TO LEAD CHURCH INTO YEAR 2000. Pope John Paul II, speaking at an evening service in Gorzow, in southwestern Poland, on 2 June, asked his countrymen to pray for him so that he can lead the Roman Catholic Church into the year 2000. The service was attended by nearly 400,000 people. The pontiff said his mentor, the late Polish primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, had told him he would be the pope to take the Church into the third millennium of Christianity. Earlier the same day, the pope celebrated a mass in Legnica, also in southwestern Poland, at an airfield that was a Soviet military base under communism. On 3 June, the Pope is scheduled to meet with the presidents of Germany, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary to commemorate St. Adelbert in the western Polish town of Gniezno. Adelbert is regarded as a symbol of an undivided Europe in medieval times.

A Victory for Ukraine

The Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty and the agreement on the fate of the Black Sea Fleet are a major diplomatic victory for Kyiv, just as they meet several of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's most immediate political needs.

For Yeltsin, the accords are politically useful on several counts. Because the Ukrainians had long wanted a visit by the Russian leader, the agreements-- which were signed in the Ukrainian capital on 31 May--gave him the opportunity to reassert in public that Russia has a special relationship with Ukraine, even if Kyiv is less than wholly interested in it. Since those agreements suggest that neither party can reach an accord with a third party that would threaten the other, they gave him the opportunity to take some of the sting out of Ukraine's ever closer relationship with the West, which was consolidated with the recent initialing of a special Ukrainian-NATO charter.

And because the accords give Russia the right to use the naval base at Sevastopol for many years, they provide the Russian president with some political protection against those in Moscow who want the Russian government to press for sovereignty over Sevastopol or even Crimea as a whole.

Many observers both in the region and elsewhere tend to see the accords as a victory for Moscow in its efforts to maintain or even increase its influence in Kyiv--because of their political usefulness for Yeltsin and because his press spokesman declared they were the Russian president's "most important foreign policy move in 1997." But such an interpretation fails to take into account the far greater political benefits that the accords give to Ukraine as a whole and to its president, Leonid Kuchma. Beyond the specifics that Yeltsin and others have suggested benefit Russia, the accords provide three important, even critical, benefits to Ukraine.

First, they undermine the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. Kyiv has been unwilling to sign any CIS defense arrangement with Russia. But Moscow obviously wanted this "friendship" pact badly enough to be willing to forgive Kyiv some of its debt for energy supplies. This will not be lost either on other Commonwealth countries, which will likely chart an increasingly independent course as a result, or on Ukraine, whose government has just seen a demonstration of the value of its own efforts to move closer to the West.

Second, both the friendship treaty and, to an even greater extent, the accord on the Black Sea fleet provide a more precise definition of Ukrainian-Russian relations and give Kyiv a freer hand. Since the end of the USSR, the Russian government has sought to maintain enough ambiguity in its relations with the former Soviet republics to give it a freer hand in dealing with them. While the accord gives Russia the right to keep its fleet in Sevastopol, it specifies that Russia is there only on the basis of a lease for a specific time agreed to by Kyiv. Yeltsin did stress that the "Slavic" unity of the two countries was beyond challenge; but at the same time, he said that Ukraine's border was beyond question.

Third, these latest accords further reduce the differences between Ukraine and any other East European country.

Despite his occasionally flamboyant rhetoric, Yeltsin tended to treat the Ukrainian president and Ukraine in a way he would treat any other national leader or country. Given the pretensions of some Russian officials, that is indeed progress. Just two days after the signing of the accords with Russia, Ukraine made more progress toward that kind of status when Kuchma signed an agreement with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu that put an end to one of the most neuralgic border disputes in the region.

In a way that the Russian president probably did not intend, his signature on the Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty will only expand the possibilities for Ukraine to make more friends elsewhere.