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When U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit down in Bratislava on 24 February, they will find that relations between the two countries have stalled in almost all aspects, despite the good personal rapport the two men have established since their first meeting in Slovenia in 2001. Although policymakers and analysts in both countries agree that relations have soured, they differ when it comes to explaining why.

U.S.-based politicians and observers argue that the deterioration in bilateral relations stems from a change in Putin's political course, namely, his suppression of the opposition and the independent mass media, his taming of the judiciary, and his nostalgia for the Soviet past. That nostalgia, these analysts say, has led to shortsighted attempts to restore Russian hegemony in the post-Soviet space and to interfere in the domestic affairs of Ukraine, Georgia, and other CIS countries. They also cite the ongoing war in Chechnya, all-pervasive corruption, and the Yukos affair as factors that have contributed to the souring of bilateral relations.

Russian political figures and analysts, however, tend to blame the downturn in relations on the "Cold War mentality" to which many key U.S. players remain hostage, on anti-Russia lobbying efforts within the United States, and on objective conflicts in the two countries' national interests. RTR commentator Nikolai Svanidze said on 19 February that although Bush and Putin enjoy cordial personal relations, the bureaucracies in both countries are hanging on to the Cold War habit of "perceiving each other with hostility." "Public opinion [in both countries] has accumulated a lot of mistrust, and the mass media also demonstrate a lot of mutual aggressiveness and mutual pleasure in the failures of the other," Svanidze said.

TV-Tsentr commentator Aleksei Pushkov on 18 February explained the souring of relation in terms of the active efforts of "anti-Russia lobbies" in the United States. "In the United States, Putin's opponents have initiated a campaign of pressure on President Bush to get him to toughen his position toward Russia and toward Putin personally," Pushkov said. Although generally Bush administration figures resist such pressure, Pushkov said, the impression is being created lately that more and more of them are adopting this mindset. Nonetheless, Moscow prefers to deal with Bush, who has chosen to have Putin "as a friend, not a foe," Pushkov said. "If, for example, Senator John McCain [Republican, Arizona], who still seems to be fighting the Vietnam War, were in the White House, we would already have a [new] Cold War between Russia and the United States."

Pushkov added that if one looks realistically at the global situation and ignores formulaic public declarations about "the joint fight against international terrorism," there is much more dividing the two countries than there is bringing them closer. It remains to be seen how long the good personal relations between the two presidents can survive a direct collision of national interests, Pushkov said.

The Yukos affair has been pushed to the forefront of attention over the last week since a group of U.S. Congress members linked the scandal to a call to suspend Russia's membership of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries. This idea was first advanced by philanthropist George Soros in a 13 February interview with the Austrian daily "Der Standard." Then on 18 February, Senator McCain and Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut), backed by three other Republicans and two Democrats, introduced a motion in Congress that called for Russia's G-8 participation to be suspended until Moscow "ends its assault on democracy and political freedom," reported.

Commenting on Soros's proposal, Politika foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov told TV-Tsentr on 14 February that Moscow does not believe the threat is realistic. For one thing, Nikonov said, the G-8 is an informal group without its own charter, making it difficult to determine if there is more or less democracy in Russia than, say, Japan. Moreover, there is no precedent or procedure for suspending a country's membership of the group, Nikonov said. Suspending Russia would require the unanimous agreement of the other seven members, which is problematic. Finally, he added, Bush regards Soros in almost the same light that Putin regards former oligarch Boris Berezovskii and is unlikely to be sympathetic to any of his proposals.

Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) likewise attributed the slump in relations to conflicting national interests, RTR reported on 19 February. Kosachev noted that on 18 February, Putin received Iranian National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani in the Kremlin and expressed his willingness to continue Russia's assistance to Iran's nuclear-power program, despite the objections of Washington and Jerusalem. Putin also confirmed his plan to visit Tehran soon.

However, Kosachev added, Russia has no interest in seeing Iran become a nuclear power, as Iran is much closer to Russia than to the United States and "we are not suicidal." Moscow will continue developing the nuclear power plant at Bushehr and will ensure that it remains under reliable control. Kosachev added that immediately after the Bratislava summit, Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev will sign an agreement with Iran on the return to Russia of spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr.

Kosachev also noted that the United States and Israel have raised serious objections to media reports that Moscow intends to sell the Strelets (SA-18) surface-to-air missile to Syria. Washington argues that the Syrian government is linked to Hizballah, which the United States has declared a terrorist organization, and fears that the missiles could fall into Hizballah's hands. However, Kosachev said that the missiles in question are mounted on trucks and can be easily monitored by satellites. Although Washington has argued that the SA-18 can be easily dismantled and handed over to terrorists, Kosachev countered that such weapons cannot be easily smuggled into a position that could threaten Israel. He even proposed that a panel of international experts be convened to determine whether the missiles can actually be removed from their trucks. Kosachev concluded by arguing, as Putin has, that the missiles in question are not the subject of any international limitations agreement and that Syria is not under any international weapons sanctions.

Kosachev also noted that improving Russian-Chinese relations could be a source of tension between Moscow and Washington. He noted that Moscow's relations with Beijing have improved markedly in recent months, and cited in particular that fact that a longstanding border dispute was recently resolved. He said that the driving force behind developments is China's booming economy and its drive toward becoming the world's No. 1 energy consumer. Earlier this month, China announced that it plans to double energy consumption within five years. Therefore, competition between the United States and China for energy resources is bound to increase and any aspect of Russian-Chinese relations -- including military cooperation -- will be seen by Washington through this prism, Kosachev said.

Although Kosachev did not mention it, the list of problems in U.S.-Russia relations would not be complete without reference to joint nuclear security. According to numerous Russian media reports in recent weeks, the United States purportedly intends to put forward a serious proposal on the joint monitoring of both countries' nuclear arsenals. That proposal reportedly entails combined teams of monitors from both sides observing "high-risk nuclear objects" in both the military and civilian sectors of both countries, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 February.

Those reports have set off real hysteria among Russia's national-patriotic forces, which consider the U.S. proposal tantamount to "a nuclear ultimatum for Putin," "Zavtra" publisher Aleksandr Prokhanov told Ekho Moskvy on 18 February. Speculation about such a pending U.S. proposal reached its peak on 11 February when the Foreign Ministry posted on its website ( a special statement stressing that "all speculation about the purported planned signing of an accord on international control over Russia's nuclear arsenal are groundless." The statement said baldly, "There are no such talks and there can be no such talks."

The same statement did, however, confirm that nuclear safety was on the agenda when Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visited Washington in January, and it quoted Ivanov's comment that "combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is one of the clearest and most obvious lines of U.S.-Russian cooperation. Here we have no disagreements."

Despite the official denial, the topic continues to excite Russia's national-patriotic community. On 19 February, several Russian Orthodox and Cossack organizations held a demonstration in Moscow, calling on the Kremlin to "protect Russia's nuclear sovereignty" and to "organize a people's militia for the protection of Russia's nuclear arsenal," Ekho Moskvy reported. Military journalist Aleksandr Golts told the radio station that "foreign control over Russia's nuclear arsenal is a favorite fable of Russian patriots. In fact, the United States and Russia cannot even agree about Iran's nuclear program."

It is unlikely that the two presidents will manage to discuss such a wide range of controversial issues, given the tight schedule of the summit. According to media reports, Bush and Putin will meet in Bratislava for an initial one-hour session and then later, together with their delegations, for another 90 minutes. Bearing this in mind, most specialists do not harbor great expectations for the summit. "It will be good if the presidents do not quarrel openly," Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Aleksei Malashenko told on 21 February.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush prepare for their meeting in Bratislava on 24 February, officials on both sides might be hoping that the two leaders' much-heralded personal friendship reemerges.

Such fellowship could help smooth over recent difficulties, such as the clash over the Ukrainian presidential election, and foster efforts to weather what some analysts call a "major crisis" in U.S.-Russia relations.

Speaking at a conference on U.S.-Russian relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on 8 February, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a former aide to President Boris Yeltsin and head of the Polity Foundation, explained that Washington's support for Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ruffled feathers in Moscow.

"Actually, Putin sympathizes [with] Bush. He supported the U.S. president in the [November] presidential election openly -- to the dismay of some," said Nikonov. "He still has some personal affection for Bush, although I think the chemistry of their relations suffered somewhat because of Ukraine.... Actually, the Ukrainian situation made Putin furious about the rest of the world, not just about Bush -- about the universe, I guess."

In light of the anger over Ukraine and similar disgruntlement over U.S. support for Georgia's Rose Revolution in late 2003, analysts' expectations of what can be accomplished in Bratislava are not high.

"Bratislava, I don't think, will open up a new era in the U.S.-Russian relationship," Dmitrii Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center said at the same conference. "The mission of Bratislava as I see it is very different. We had a major crisis in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Bratislava is a chance for clearing the air somewhat and [to] talk about practical things that the two governments can engage in at the start of George Bush's second term and, if you like, at the start of a new term for Putin."

But expectations were similarly low when Bush met with Putin in June 2001 at the former's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Although only six years separates them in age, the two men were not expected to hit it off. Bush is the scion of a powerful political family, while Putin is the son of a machine-tool operator and a janitor/cook. Bush summered in the exclusive confines of Kennebunkport, Maine; Putin grew up in a collective apartment in the gritty urban environment of Leningrad.

While Bush's father headed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Putin labored at the Russian equivalent, rising only to a mid-level position after a 15-year stint. One was bred for political power; the other was plucked from obscurity and had power thrust upon him. Putin was virtually unknown at the national level some 18 months before Yeltsin anointed him as his heir apparent.

But the presidents did get along -- so well that Bush was prompted to make his now famous declaration that that he had "looked in Putin's eyes and got a sense of his soul."

A key to understanding the relationship between the two men lies in the fact that despite their starkly different origins, they share a central life experience.

James Richter, professor of political science at Bates College, has analyzed the two presidents' self-descriptions and found they agree on many of the personal qualities needed for effective leadership.

"There is one thing that stands out in both cases, and that is they [both] look back at some turning point in their lives," Richter said. "There is that one point where they found some self-discipline which turned their lives around, and they started a trajectory toward success. With President Putin, he was much younger. He was running around the streets with a bad crowd, and he discovered judo and a judo instructor. He became much more interested. And that sort of transformed his life. He went to college. And he went to university and he ended up in the KGB. With Bush, of course, it was a conversion experience, which led him away from alcohol and toward the presidency."

Both men appear to place a high premium on what might be characterized as "masculine" values such as personal strength, consistency, loyalty, and resolve. Both presidents stress loyalty in their appointments of cabinet members. Both maintain strict regimens of physical exercise and abstain from heavy drinking, and both men contrast such habits with those of their less-disciplined predecessors.

Of course, if these were the only characteristics that they shared, the first summit might not have been such a success. But, as Bates explained, both men appear to have taken their faith in the redemptive power of self-discipline and projected it onto matters of statecraft. From their notion of self-discipline, they seem to share a belief that it is only self-discipline -- only their being in control -- that separates order from chaos.

"It's only self-discipline that got them to go on the straight and narrow, otherwise there is dissipation," Bates said. "I think they generalize this, project this, to the world at large so it is replicated throughout their rhetoric. They say we have to be strong, because the world is dangerous out there. The world is lawless and chaotic."

Both men, according to Bates, use the rhetoric of danger to expand and centralize the power of the state -- not only to protect against terrorism, but also to discourage dissent and encourage their vision of moral self-constraint. At the international level, they are both seemingly distrustful of multilateral institutions.

"This self-discipline is also projected onto the body politic, which is Russia and the United States," Bates said. "And this control of the body translates into a kind of emphasis on sovereignty and the notion of being able to ensure the sovereignty of the state, so they both as a result are less willing to move toward multilateralism."

In an essay titled "Why Did Russia Welcome A Republican Victory?" Mikhail Rykhtik of Nizhnii Novgorod State University agreed with Bates's contention that Bush and Putin share certain conceptions. Both have a state-centric worldview. He wrote that Republicans "do not trust international organizations and fight for unlimited sovereignty when American national security is at stake.... Putin's Russia has the same attitude towards international organizations and a similar understanding of state sovereignty."

Issues of state sovereignty and self-determinism might come up at this summit. At a U.S. Senate hearing on 18 February, a panel of experts urged Bush to raise the topic of the quality of Russia's democracy with Putin at the summit. However, some analysts counter that putting such a topic on the agenda would only serve to provoke Putin's ire. Nikonov, who said he had spoken recently not only with Putin aides but also with Putin himself about the summit, said the Russian president would simply not respond.

"Putin does not see any problem with democratic development of Russia. He personally describes the recent developments in the country as the transformation from the failed democracy of Yeltsin to functioning democracy of Putin," Nikonov said. "And I can easily imagine the exchange on values and democratic developments between Bush and Putin in Bratislava. In my mind, Putin's response will be something to the extent that you'd better care about how they count votes in Florida. Putin really does not think that he has any problems with human rights."

However, Bates argued that Bush might well choose to raise "values issues" rather than purely pragmatic policy concerns.

"I think the United States tends to underestimate the importance of Russia, and so, as a result, it indulges itself in having a more values-based policy toward Russia," Bates said. "But yes, from Putin's perspective if they push the values, then Putin [and Bush] will [have] less and less a personal tie. But [Putin] will still deal with the U.S. in very instrumental ways. You can't really afford to alienate the U.S. It's just too powerful."

March: President Putin to visit Ukraine

VETERANS AND MILITARY PROTESTS CONTINUE. Opposition, human rights, and veterans' organizations held demonstrations on 23 February in several Russian cities against the deteriorating social status of servicemen, social-benefits reforms, the decay of the armed forces, and the war in Chechnya, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. According to the Interior Ministry, about 40,000 people took part in demonstrations in Moscow. A military veteran told RFE/RL in Moscow that as a veteran he "feels absurd celebrating the 60th anniversary of victory [in World War II] this year, as we are living in conditions of defeat." Speaking at a demonstration in Krasnodar, Duma Deputy Oleg Mashchenko (Motherland) said that the present social unrest "is a sign of forthcoming public wrath that will lead to massive civil disobedience." And Duma Deputy and retired Colonel Viktor Alksnis (Motherland) told RFE/RL's Russian Service, "Never, even in the hardest years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, was there such frustration within the military ranks as now." Officers are resigning from the service in the thousands and blaming their situation on the authorities, starting with President Putin, Alksnis added. Meanwhile, independent military journalist Pavel Felgenhauer told RFE/RL that it would be naive to think that unhappiness within the military will lead to an "armed rebellion." However, if there is the same sort of civil disobedience as there was recently in Ukraine, the Russian military, like the Ukrainian, will not move to defend the authorities, he added. VY

When U.S. President George Bush meets with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Bratislava on 24 February, Central Asia will not be an agenda-topping item. But as a region where U.S. and Russian interests intersect, Central Asia provides a window on the dynamics that dominate the two countries' uneasy relationship in the former Soviet Union.

More importantly, current trends in U.S.-Central Asian relations highlight the contradictory impulses that might well determine the future policy context for the U.S.-Russian relationship.

Although it forms a convenient geographic entity bound by myriad cultural, historical, religious, and ethnic ties, Central Asia -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- has made little progress toward becoming a discrete geopolitical unit since the breakup of the Soviet Union. As a result, the relations of outside states with the countries that make up Central Asia occur first and foremost on the bilateral level, and only secondarily through the various regional groupings that have sprung up over the past decade. U.S. and Russian relations with Central Asia reflect this, making a country-by-country survey preferable to a regional overview.

Under the "multivector" diplomacy of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Kazakhstan has maintained good relations with Russia and the United States. An oil-rich country that boasts Central Asia's largest economy, Kazakhstan has attracted considerable foreign investment to its energy industry, much of it from U.S. companies. Major export routes lead through Russia. Kazakhstan has a large Russian minority but has successfully avoided serious ethnic tension. Potential sources of friction exist, such as the construction of alternate oil-export routes through the Caspian, but no storm clouds line the immediate horizon.

Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country that hosts both Russian and U.S. military bases. The official Kyrgyz position is that both contribute to Kyrgyzstan's security, with the Russian base at Kant providing an air-force component to the Collective Treaty Security Organization's (CSTO, comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) rapid-reaction forces and the U.S. base at Manas providing air support for coalition operations in Afghanistan. The U.S. base opened in 2001, and the Russian base in 2003, contributing to a general perception that the two facilities counterbalance each other.

Recent events have suggested that Kyrgyz-Russian relations are warming and Kyrgyz-U.S. relations cooling. President Askar Akaev vehemently condemned the Rose Revolution in Georgia and Orange Revolution in Ukraine -- events that Russian and Kyrgyz official media have consistently suggested were orchestrated with the help of U.S.-sponsored NGOs -- and has made it clear that he does not want to see any repetition in Kyrgyzstan, which holds parliamentary elections on 27 February and a presidential election in October.

During a visit to Moscow in late January, President Akaev told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Russia plans to invest $2 billion in the Kyrgyz economy. Not long after, Russian Air Force commander General Vladimir Mikhailov told ITAR-TASS on 10 February that Russia plans to double the amount of equipment and personnel, who currently number approximately 500, at the base in 2005. A few days later, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov announced that Kyrgyzstan, after consultations with the CSTO and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), has decided against the deployment of U.S. AWACS surveillance aircraft at Manas.

Tajikistan has been expanding ties recently with Russia, where up to 1 million Tajik citizens are currently employed as migrant workers. During Russian President Putin's visit to Dushanbe in October, the two countries signed agreements settling Tajikistan's Soviet-era debt to Russia, converting Russia's 201st Motor Rifle Division into a permanent military base and paving the groundwork for multibillion-dollar investments by the Russian company Rusal in Tajikistan's power and aluminum industries. At the same time, Russian border guards, who had been guarding the Tajik-Afghan border, handed over an 881-kilometer section of the frontier to Tajik jurisdiction in 2004, and will complete the transfer of the remaining Moscow and Panj sections in 2005.

The hermit kingdom of Turkmenistan has limited relations with the United States and strong economic ties to Russia in the form of a 25-year gas contract. The United States has criticized Turkmenistan's human rights record while maintaining arms-length ties, although a number of U.S. companies have done business with the country. Russia's state-controlled gas company Gazprom is a major buyer of Turkmen natural gas and is slated to increase purchases to 70 billion-80 billion cubic meters a year by 2009. Turkmenistan halted shipments earlier this year in an attempt to renegotiate its contract with Gazprom and win a price hike; talks are currently under way. A compromise is likely, as Turkmenistan currently lacks other export routes and debt-strapped Gazprom would like to use Turkmen gas to compensate for declining yields at current fields and put off the cost-intensive development of new fields. Against the backdrop of the Gazprom-Turkmen relationship, Russia has generally downplayed discrimination against the Russian-speaking minority in Turkmenistan.

America's other military facility in Central Asia is located in Uzbekistan, which has stressed its status as a U.S. ally in the war on terror, formalized in 2002 as the U.S.-Uzbek Strategic Partnership. The base at Karshi-Khanabad supports operations in Afghanistan and houses approximately 1,800 personnel, Central Asia security expert Roger McDermott told RFE/RL on 24 May 2004.

Experts have described the U.S.-Uzbek relationship as problematic in light of Uzbekistan's human rights record, citing as evidence a State Department decision in July to withhold up to $18 million in aid for a "lack of progress on democratic reform" and a subsequent Pentagon decision in August to give Uzbekistan $21 million to prevent biological-weapons proliferation. Critics of the partnership, such as former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Charles Murray, have argued that it is counterproductive for the United States to pursue the war on terror by supporting a regime that creates conditions for extremism with repressive policies. Since events in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004, Uzbekistan has denied registration to a number of U.S.-based organizations such as George Soros's Open Society Institute and Internews. At a recent address to parliament, President Islam Karimov warned Western ambassadors against any attempts to use NGOs to spark political change.

Russian relations with Uzbekistan, which had been chilly for some time, underwent a rapprochement in 2004. In June, President Putin visited Tashkent, where he and President Karimov signed a strategic-partnership treaty. Russia's Gazprom and LUKoil pledged $2 billion in investments, albeit over an extended period. David Lewis, director of International Crisis Group's Central Asia project in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, told RFE/RL on 17 June 2004 that the treaty expressed Tashkent's frustration with Western criticism over human rights and lagging reforms and came as "a reaction against the failure of U.S.-Uzbek relations over the past two years."

The preceding overview of Russian and U.S. relations with Central Asia reveals several trends. In Russia, where a majority of policy analysts assert that Russia has been "pushed out" of its natural sphere of influence in Central Asia and disapprove of the U.S. military presence in the region, recent policy under President Putin indicates a push to restore lost influence. This has taken the form of reestablishing parity in military bases; but more importantly it has involved substantial investment commitments in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Kyrgyzstan, with state-owned and private Russian companies acting in concert with a broader policy initiative. Thus far, the move to strengthen ties has proceeded smoothly, although the long-term economic bases for cooperation remain untested.

Broadly speaking, there has been a tendency in Central Asia for closer ties with the United States to translate into cooler relations with Russia, although this is by no means true across the board. Moreover, the specter of the Rose and Orange revolutions in Central Asia, where political power has remained static for over a decade, is a phenomenon very much in flux, with uncertain implications for political change in the region and for U.S. and Russian relations with individual countries. Limited Western interest in the region and recent Russian official contacts with representatives of the Kyrgyz opposition suggest that the situation need not produce a standoff in which Russia supports the status quo.

While Central Asia will not be among the priority topics when Bush and Putin meet in Bratislava on 24 February, in one important sense it will loom large in the margins of their dialogue. Recent events in Russia, from the reassertion of state control over television to the elimination of elections for regional heads to the growing speculation over constitutional changes that might allow President Putin to remain in power after 2008, suggest a path of development reminiscent of Central Asia. Further underscoring the similarity, U.S.-Russian cooperation today focuses on the twin pillars of energy, the core element in U.S.-Kazakh relations, and security, which dominates U.S.-Uzbek relations.

So even if Central Asia is not a key theme when Bush and Putin talk, observers should heed the cooperation and contradictions that mark Central Asia's relations with the United States, for they might increasingly form the context for Russia's relations with the United States as well.

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT LUKEWARM ON EU NEIGHBORHOOD POLICY... President Viktor Yushchenko told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 23 February that Kyiv does not consider the EU's European Neighborhood Policy to be "an adequate basis for further Ukraine-EU relations," Channel 5 reported. "The format of our ties should proceed from the recognition of Ukraine as an inalienable part of united Europe," Yushchenko stressed. He added that the Ukrainian government views the implementation of the recently signed three-year EU-Ukraine Action Plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005) "beyond the context" of the EU New Neighborhood Policy. JM

...DECLARES EU MEMBERSHIP AS UKRAINE'S ULTIMATE GOAL... President Yushchenko told European lawmakers in Strasbourg on 23 February that Ukraine's entry into the EU is his primary objective, Channel 5 reported. According to Yushchenko, entry talks should begin when the Action Plan is fulfilled in 2007. "The final result of the implementation of the Action Plan, which we are ready to speed up, has to be the signing of a new, reinforced accord in the form of a European associate membership accord," Yushchenko said. "Ukraine is ready to walk the distance to meet the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership. I would like to state in clear terms that we realize that the bulk of the work to integrate Ukraine into the EU has to be done by Ukrainians themselves." JM

...AND PLEDGES CLOSE RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA. President Yushchenko also said in the European Parliament on 23 February that Ukraine's European aspirations are compatible with the development of closer cooperation with Russia, Channel 5 reported. "The development of multifaceted, mutually beneficial cooperation with the Russian Federation will be complemented by Ukraine's new active regional policy," Yushchenko said, promising that Kyiv will take a more active stance in settling the Transdniester problem. "A stable, democratic and reformed Russia, integrated into European economic and political ties, is a key interest for Ukraine and a guarantee of a stable, secure and prosperous Europe," he added. JM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PLEDGES REINFORCEMENT OF EASTERN BORDERS. Speaking at a conference on the relations between Romania and its eastern neighbors Moldova and Ukraine, Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu said Romania will be the first barrier against organized crime from Central Asia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Transdniester, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported on 23 February. Ungureanu pledged that Romania's security system will be reinforced and adapted to the systems of the other EU member states. In related news, a government spokeswoman said the former government will have to explain why it paid the European defense giant EADS to modernize a part of the border controls from the state budget that was originally to be financed by Phare funds, whereas the most difficult border section with Ukraine was not covered, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported on 23 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January and 16 February 2005). UB

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN... Moldovan President and Party of Moldovan Communists Chairman Vladimir Voronin told a press conference on 23 February that he regards a recent declaration by Russia's State Duma calling for economic sanctions against Moldova as an "emotional reaction," Moldpress and Interlic reported. Voronin also said that he regards the declaration, along with the presence of Russian election advisers, as an attempt to influence the 6 March parliamentary elections and as interference in Moldova's domestic affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 14, and 23 February 2005). On 18 February, the Russian State Duma adopted a declaration recommending that the Russian government impose an economic embargo on Moldova should Chisinau continue its blockade policy towards the separatist region of Transdniester, Moldovan and Ukrainian media reported. UB