Vote brings wave of recognition

by Yaroslav Trofimov
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly

NEW YORK - A wave of international recognition of the newborn Ukrainian state is sweeping across the world.

Poland, Ukraine's crucial western neighbor, was the first country to grant diplomatic recognition. "Relations between Poland and Ukraine are very good and ambassadors will be exchanged soon," said Wladylaw Klaczynski, spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry, on Monday, December 2.

Hours after the release of preliminary results of the independence referendum, the United States declared that it is "obviously moving towards full diplomatic recognition" of the republic, and Canada said that it "has decided to recognize Ukraine as an independent state."

Thomas Niles, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, was scheduled to arrive in Kiev on Thursday, December 5, to begin preliminary talks on recognition and issues of arms control and minority rights. Unless unpredicted problems arise, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker is expected to fly to Kiev to establish formal relations later this month.

Canada will send a senior official to Kiev next week to take practical steps towards full-fledged diplomatic relations, though a visit by Secretary of External Affairs Barbara MacDougall is not being planned, said Guy Erchambault, spokesman for Canada's Department of External Affairs.

Although Canadian recognition was widely expected, as Canada harbors a large Ukrainian community and even the Canadian governor general Ray Hnatyshyn is an ethnic Ukrainian, the U.S. reaction signalled a complete reversal of the Bush administration's policy towards the seceding Soviet republics.

In August, President George Bush had warned Ukrainians against breaking away from Moscow in his famous "Chicken Kiev" speech. The speech was heavily criticized, and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft even felt compelled to write a special op-ed piece in The New York Times to explain that the U.S. will not always be opposed to Ukrainian independence.

After the failed August putsch and a North American visit by Ukrainian leader Leonid Kravchuk, American attitudes towards Ukrainian secession started to change, and American and Ukrainian authorities began preliminary discussions which involved the republic's representative at the United Nations, Gennady Udovenko.

Ukraine has had separate membership in the United Nations since 1945, and its U.N. envoys were the only internationally recognized Ukrainian diplomats.

"I have constant negotiations with the Bush administration. If a year ago they did not even want to speak with me in the State Department, now, as they saw that Ukraine is serious about independence, the situation is completely different," said Mr. Udovenko.

According to The U.S. News & World Report, the decisive shift in the American position can be attributed to the strongly pro-Ukrainian stand of Robert Gates, the newly-appointed director of the CIA. Mr. Gates and Mr. Udovenko had a discussion last month at New York Plaza Hotel, where White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk was feted as "Ukrainian of the Year" by the Ukrainian Institute of America, a cultural foundation located in New York City.

Additional pressure on the White House was applied by the U.S. Senate, which passed a resolution calling for swift U.S. recognition of Ukraine, and by strongly Republican Ukrainian American lobby groups whose support of the Bush administration has become increasingly important as the president's popularity is falling victim to economic recession.

In last month's heavily publicized Pennsylvania Senate race. Ukrainian and Baltic groups, protesting the administration's attempts to prevent the break-up of the USSR, supported the Democratic candidate, Harris Wofford. This position contributed to the defeat of Dick Thornburgh, a former attorney general in the Bush administration.

Mr. Bush was the first foreign leader to congratulate President Kravchuk on his election. On the eve of the referendum, the American president also called Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, trying to coordinate recognition policy.

After the Canadian and American declarations were issued, a statement from Russian President Boris Yeltsin was read late on Monday on "Vesti," a Russian television news program. "The Russian President declared his recognition of Ukrainian independence in accordance with the democratic will of the people. Mr. Yeltsin expressed his conviction that it is necessary and possible to quickly establish new inter-government relations, including diplomatic relations between Russia and Ukraine," the statement said.

Despite earlier territorial claims against Ukraine, Mr. Yeltsin did not mention the borders question in the Monday, December 2, statement.

Mr. Yeltsin's position sharply contrasted with the reaction of central Soviet authorities and even of Mr. Yeltsin's own former prime minister. "The Ukrainian independence is a political Chornobyl," said Vitaly Churkin, a spokesman for the unravelling Soviet Foreign Ministry.

Ivan Silayev, the former Russian prime minister and now head of the inter-Republican Economic Committee a Soviet quasi-government, warned of "tragic and armed conflicts" if Ukraine does not join the union. In an interview with Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper, Mr. Silayev also declared that "Russia did not agree" that Crimea should remain part of Ukraine, adding that only 37 percent of residents of Simferopil, Crimea's capital, voted for independence.

Mr. Silayev, a representative of the military-industrial complex, is said to have strong support in the Russian Parliament. He is also a close ally of Russian Vice-President Aleksander Rutskoi.

This anti-Ukrainian stand may have strong electoral support. In February, a poll of Russian federation residents conducted by the U.S. Information Agency showed that 59 percent firmly opposed Ukrainian independence and only 22 favored letting the republic secede.

There is also ample potential for conflict on economic issues.

On Wednesday, December 4, Russia said that it will accept 62 percent of the Soviet foreign debt, estimated at $100 billion, in return for keeping all Soviet gold and diamond reserves. This clashes with the Ukrainian position, as Kiev wants to assume its 16 percent of the debt on the condition that gold and diamond reserves be divided among the republics.

After the Russian decision to recognize Ukraine, several other European countries declared that they will follow suit. Hungary has already recognized Ukrainian independence, and Sweden, Lithuania and Denmark have said that they are considering a similar move and are sending senior officials to Kiev.

The European Community is not likely to grant recognition until its summit in the Dutch city of Maastrict later this month, but a German envoy will visit Kiev next week on behalf of the EC to start preliminary negotiations, the German Foreign Ministry said.

On Wednesday, December 4, Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier said that Czecho-Slovakia would recognize Ukraine soon, but that Ukraine must agree on its share of the Soviet Union's international obligations, especially in the areas of arms control and the debt.

It is likely that establishing diplomatic ties with Romania will be more difficult. "Greeting Ukraine's independence with sympathy" and expressing readiness to establish diplomatic ties with it, the government urged Ukraine to enter into negotiations with Romania under provisions of CSCE documents on their peaceful change of borders.

Yaroslav Trofimov is a New York correspondent for The European, a British news weekly. He was the founder of the first Rukh press service in Kiev in 1990, and has previously written for The Weekly.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 8, 1991, No. 49, Vol. LIX

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