WHY IS RUSSIA ACTIVATING MILITARY-POLITICAL CONTACTS WITH UKRAINE?

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On the eve of Victory Day, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leadership of the Russian Federation made some moves aimed at strengthening Russia’s position in post-Soviet republics. Russia chose a very good occasion. The point is that Victory Day remains the most popular holiday in the CIS. The meeting of leaders of the member-nations of the Collective Security Treaty was held in Dushanbe in April 2003 under anti-war slogans. The first military-political union of post-Soviet republics was created in law at the Dushanbe summit. After that, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan started creating supranational military control bodies and the Collective Rapid Deployment Force. Moscow again raised the topic of deploying its military base in Tajikistan on the basis of the 201st motorized infantry division and creating an air group of the Collective rapid deployment force in the town of Kant, Kyrgyzstan.

In the meantime, Russia also tried to strengthen its influence in the south-west of the CIS. As is known, Vladimir Putin spent the May holidays in Ukraine. The Crimean peninsula is considered as an outpost of Russia’s influence in Ukraine and a potential source of tension at the same time. Firstly, this is a base of the Russian Navy, and as is known, Ukraine seeks to join NATO. In this regard, it is possible that the alliance will finally demand that Russia weaken its military presence in the Crimea. Secondly, ethnic differences are gathering strength in the Crimea. The Crimean Tatars are displeased by Ukraine’s refusal to let them create an autonomous district in the Crimea.

Vladimir Putin pretended not to notice these problems. Ukrainian newspapers (in particular, “Ukrainskaya Pravda”) noted that the Russian president felt himself at home in the Crimea. In addition to economic problems (the prospects of joining the World Trade Organization and of creating a common economic zone and an international gas consortium), Vladimir Putin and Leonid Kuchma discussed defense and geopolitical issues. In particular, Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine and Russia have common interests in the Black Sea. He also said that the Russian and Ukrainian defense industries are integrated. In this regard the Russian leader emphasized the necessity of establishing closer cooperation, because “The Russian and Ukrainian defense industries cannot develop without each other”.

As is known, the Russian military-industrial complex cooperates with the Ukrainian defense industry in the missile sector and technical maintenance of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The nations have common interests in creating anti-aircraft complexes and new aircraft. In the meantime, the An-70 project of a Russian-Ukrainian military-transport plane faces many obstacles.

When in Yalta, Vladimir Putin supported the idea of producing this aircraft on condition that Russia and Ukraine determine the market for this product. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin (he is in charge of industrial issues) raised this topic at a press conference a bit later. When commenting on negative views of some Russian generals on the prospects of this project, the Deputy Prime Minister noted that: “No modern aircraft has been born without heated disputes. Sometimes opponents make harsh statements. It is possible that the Defense Ministry’s statements are rather harsh, but we will correct its position.” According to Aleshin, some aspects (the price and cooperation issues) of the An-70 project must be revised.

Taking into account the fact that Russia has already chosen a military-transport plane for its Air Force (the Il-76MF, which will be produced in Voronezh), the intention to support the An-70 project looks like an attempt to please Ukraine. Russia is prepared for making other concessions to Ukraine. In particular, Ukrainian anti-aircraft units can use Russian firing ranges. Russia pays a very high rent for a naval base in the Crimea and cuts Kiev’s debt.

Russia also makes concessions in the economic sector. Why? It is evident that Kiev seeks to join NATO. Ukraine supports the idea to build pipelines from the Caspian Sea to Georgia and Turkey via Azerbaijan. Ukraine intends to take part in protecting these pipelines. In addition, Ukraine intends to intensify its military presence on the route of transportation of hydrocarbons from the Georgian port of Supsa to Europe. Kuchma stated that Ukraine is prepared to take part in the settlement of the Abkhazian conflict. He made this statement at a meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on April 22. NATO and the European Union plan to settle the conflict in the Trans-Dniester territory. Kiev promised to join this process.

In other words, Moscow’s concessions are a payment for Ukraine’s attitude towards its northern neighbor. Russia cannot deploy the entire Black Sea Fleet in Novorossiysk. This is why it needs the Crimea and Sevastopol. Russia is interested in transporting hydrocarbons to Europe via Ukraine. This is why Moscow will implement reduced charges for consumers in Ukraine. Russia wants to keep its contingents in hot spots in the CIS. However, Russia understands that other member-nations of the CIS are interested in such peacekeeping operations too. This means that Moscow must put up with Ukraine’В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В В Ukraine is a very important region for Russia, and it is worthwhile making such concessions.

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