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Russia cements Ukraine ties with new deals

Video by Oliver FARRY

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-18

During his first state visit to Ukraine, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed accords on border demarcation, satellite navigation and banking with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych.

AFP - President Dmitry Medvedev Monday sealed Russia's lightning quick rapprochement with Ukraine's new leadership with a raft of new accords as he paid his first state visit to the country.

Medvedev signed accords on border demarcation, satellite navigation and banking with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych and then warmly praised the state of relations between Moscow and Kiev.

"Finally there is a worthy Ukrainian partner.... It is very important when your partner answers for his words and does not represent fickle political interests but the strategic interests of his nation," Medvedev said.

Since the Russia-friendly Yanukovych ousted the leaders of the pro-Western Orange Revolution in February's elections, he has unhesitatingly moved to repair ties that had slumped to a post-Soviet low in past years.

The developments mark a complete change from the previous presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, the passionately pro-West leader who irritated Moscow so much the Kremlin refused to talk to him.

Medvedev and Yanukovych stunned observers last month when they signed an agreement prolonging the stay of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine for another quarter century, a deal that infuriated Ukrainian nationalists.

The presidents made another show of their harmony over the Black Sea -- where Ukraine's Crimea peninsula represents a key strategic interest -- by agreeing a joint statement on security in the region.

"The sides... have agreed to actively develop bilateral dialogue and consultations on issues of security in the Black Sea region," said the statement, inviting all interested parties to join.

The statement called for the expansion of cooperation between Russia's Black Sea Fleet and Ukraine's Navy.

Yanukovych said the presidents agreed that their new found friendship would not be used to gang up against other countries. "All decisions will be taken to protect our national interests." he said.

Yet there have been signs of limits emerging to the burgeoning cooperation.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in late April floated merging the two countries' nuclear industries into one giant holding and, even more astonishing, merging their state gas companies.

But Yanukovych said last week the merger between Ukraine's Naftogaz and Russia's far larger Gazprom would be a step too far for Kiev as Moscow would never accept the union to be one of equals.

Medvedev said after the talks that any cooperation should be done on equal terms.

"These should be absolutely pragmatic approaches, no philanthropy whatsoever, no unilateral decisions but full mutual benefits of these projects. "Only in this case will they be viable. Otherwise, one of the sides will feel offended and will not be engaged in the realisation."

Gazprom’s chief executive Alexei Miller echoed that sentiment, saying Russia agreed with Ukraine that a possible unification of the two gas companies should be not only mutually beneficial but also "equally beneficial".

He declined to say however whether that meant a 50-50 merger.

The deal on the Black Sea Fleet was inked by Yanukovych and Medvedev in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv but this is the first time the Russian president has made an official visit to Kiev.

In a sign of the importance attached by both sides to the visit, Medvedev's programme was changed no less than 10 times in the run-up to the trip and only agreed finally on Sunday, the Kommersant Ukraine daily reported.

In the most symbolic moment of Medvedev's visit, the president paid homage to victims of a mass famine in Soviet Ukraine, in a rare Russian tribute to the victims of a catastrophe that has caused tensions in modern times.

Medvedev placed a candle in a clay pot at a monument to the millions of Ukrainians who died of starvation between 1921 and 1947 during the famine known in Ukraine as the Holodomor.

Date created : 2010-05-17

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