Kuchma seeks Russian support amid isolation

  • 2002-12-12
  • Miriam Elder
Cold-shouldered in the West over alleged arms sales to Iraq, President Leonid Kuchma has pledged closer ties with Ukraine's larger and powerful neighbor.

During talks this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kuchma said Ukraine has no stronger historical or economic bond than the one it enjoys with Russia.

Moscow is Kiev's "most strategic partner," he said, and Putin responded in kind, calling relations with Ukraine "a priority and a most important and fundamental partner."

Ukraine has come under intense pressure from the West since the United States leveled accusations that Kuchma had personally approved the sale of an early warning radar system to Iraq in violation of United Nations sanctions.

The incident has further tarnished the already poor image of the Ukrainian leader, who has spent much of the past few years mired in scandal over charges that he orchestrated the murder of an opposition journalist. His administration has also been hit with constant corruption charges.

His visit to Russia came just two weeks after he was given the cold shoulder at NATO's landmark expansion summit in Prague, where he showed up despite warnings by NATO leaders that he would not be welcome.

Ukraine's hopes of joining the European Union were all but squashed by European Commission President Romano Prodi who recently told a Dutch newspaper that he "saw no reason" to consider the country's candidacy."

Analysts said that the increasingly severe charges against Kuchma coupled with Putin's newfound status as a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism had contributed to Ukraine's diminishing importance.