News Analysis: Russian FM's visit to Ukraine improves Kiev-Moscow ties

2013-01-14 17:49:53 GMT2013-01-15 01:49:53(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

KIEV, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov reached consensus on a number of economic and political cooperation during Lavrov's visit to Ukraine.

The agreements reached Sunday and Monday prove that relations between the two neighbors have reached a new level. However, Russia's aim to draw Ukraine into the Customs Union has not been achieved.

FRUITFUL RESULTS

Notably, Lavrov was the first foreign minister Kozhara met after he assumed the post in December. The visit, aimed at consolidating the relations between the two key players in the region, was fruitful.

The parties found consensus on interaction with their foreign partners, especially the European Union.

Lavrov said Moscow sees no contradiction between Ukraine's plans to strengthen its relations with Europe while developing a close partnership with Russia.

"Our countries define the priorities of their policy towards the EU independently, but we share a common interest in building a united Europe without demarcation lines," Lavrov told his Ukrainian counterpart.

During the visit, Lavrov and Kozhara took part in the seventh meeting of the Subcommittee on International Cooperation between Russia and Ukraine. They also signed a communication plan between the foreign ministries of the two states for 2013.

During the negotiations, Lavrov unveiled a range of economic initiatives in a number of sectors including aeronautics, nuclear power and trade.

Lavrov said Ukraine is Russia's leading trading partner in the Commonwealth of Independents States. According to local analysts, his words might indicate that bilateral trade between the two post-Soviet countries, which increased 3.4 percent and reached 143.8 billion U.S. dollars in the first 10 months of 2012, has potential for further growth.

INTERNATIONAL ISSUES

Given that Ukraine will hold the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chairmanship in 2013, Lavrov and Kozhara also discussed prospects for the settlement of regional conflicts.

The two sides have agreed that they should intervene and mediate in the Transnistrian dispute.

Transnistria, mostly the Russian and Ukrainian-speaking area, declared independence from the Romanian-speaking majority of Moldova, but has never been recognized internationally.

"We intend to intensify the process of settlement in Transnistria. I believe that Ukraine and Russia, as the two main mediators, as well as countries that are most interested in it, should work in this direction," Kozhara said.

They also decided to hold talks in the 5+2 format, which includes, besides the two conflicting parties over Transnistria, Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as mediators, as well as the United States and the European Union as observers, in Ukraine's Lvov in mid-February.

CUSTOMS UNION PROSPECTS

On the eve of the meeting between the two senior officials, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the talks will be focused mainly on Kiev's participation in the Customs Union (CU) with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

However, the ministers did not comment on the topic after the meeting, saying that economic issues are the responsibility of the prime ministers of the two countries.

Local analysts said that the failure of the talks was expected as Kiev is still reluctant to become a full member of the CU.

Ukraine's move to become closer to the CU may rule out signing a free trade agreement with the EU, which Ukraine proclaimed as its "top foreign policy priority," experts said.

Analysts believe that Ukraine may respond positively to Russia's offer to join the CU after Feb. 25, when the Ukraine-EU summit takes place. During the summit, Ukrainian and European officials are expected to discuss a possible political and trade agreement between Kiev and the 27-member block.

The deal would bring Ukraine a step closer towards Europe and away from Russia.

However, if the talks between Kiev and Brussels fail, the Kremlin's pressure on Ukraine would significantly grow.

Ukraine, which pays 430 U.S. dollars for every 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas, is seeking a new agreement on gas prices instead of a 2009 deal. Full-fledged participation in the CU may be its only chance to reduce gas prices and save its struggling economy.

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