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06.05.05á15:38

NATURAL GAS CAN'T SPOIL THE BACON
New leadership of Ukraine supports continuation of economic partnership with Turkmenistan
A time trouble situation is the right characteristic of the first months in power of the new Ukrainian president, Victor Yushchenko, who has just hit a landmark of 100 days of being at the helm of the country. Coming back to the beginning of his term in office, it should be noted that a political component of the situation dominated at that time owing to the need of self-affirmation by the new authority. And despite this fact, working hard to sort out problems of state importance that fell on him and confronted by the need to defend the footholds he fought for, Victor Andreevich saw it absolutely important to visit Central Asia to "stake out" economic priorities at a meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

The Ukrainian president's visit, short in terms of time but rich in terms of its content, demonstrated that the two countries have great potential for economic partnership. The sides confirmed their principal agreement on the necessity to establish an international gas transportation consortium to ship Turkmen energy carriers through Kazakhstan and Russian to Ukraine. A number of significant intergovernmental documents as well as a unique interregional agreement on multifaceted cooperation between Donetsk region of Ukraine and Balkan region of Turkmenistan were signed.

Some observers hastily branded Yushchenko's visit to Turkmenistan as unsuccessful after Saparmurat Niyazov refused in a polite but rather firm manner to reduce Turkmen gas price. As a result, the Ukrainian leader had to concede to reasonable arguments of the Turkmen side and expressed no sorrow over the results of talks. He admitted that it was more important for him to make sure that the two countries maintain the unique relations.

"We are ready to work rationally and successfully. This was the main factor that ensured the productiveness of our dialog, made it more specific and promising," Victor Yushchenko said assessing the results of his visit.

"If energy security is the main problem for Ukraine today, Turkmenistan will be happy to cooperate with Ukraine in this field on the equal footing," the Turkmen leader added.

Ukraine did not try and doesn't try to hide its interest in permanent consumption of Turkmen gas. Whatever the political winds on the banks of the Dnepr river are, the country's economy would be dead without accessible energy resources. That is why it was Turkmenistan that the president of Ukraine paid his first visit to, which was not painted in any political color.

Such unambiguous demonstration by the Ukrainian leader of his commitment to the established economic priorities looked strange to certain people. Let us not forget that Turkmenistan is one of the major trade partners of Ukraine in the post-Soviet territory, and every Ukrainian leader regarded the Turkmen direction of the foreign policy as the most important one, despite peculiarities of the political situation.

It is interesting to note that even in the period of violent election campaigns in Kiev, in the middle of the orange strikes on Independence square, both chief candidates for the high state post did not forget to reiterate their commitments to the traditional close partnership with Turkmenistan. The author of this article happened to be in Kiev exactly at that time and witnessed one particular point in the programme statements of both candidates. Both Victor Yushchenko and Victor Yanukovich, analyzing Ukraine's foreign relations within the CIS in their election platforms, cited the partnership with Turkmenistan as an example of pragmatic and quite productive relations, free of political bias.

It has to be emphasized that this pragmatism in relations of the two countries was not born yesterday. It dates back to the time when the bases of partnership within the CIS had just been established. It is also worth recalling that the Turkmen leader was the first in the CIS to give the priority to the bilateral relations with partners from the CIS. Such a statement could have remained just a theoretical thesis if it was not filled with practical content in the form of cooperation between Turkmenistan and Ukraine. Ukraine has remained a permanent consumer of Turkmen gas and taken active part in joint investment projects in Turkmenistan over the entire post-Soviet period.

Yet, one cannot say that the two countries had not problems in the process of economic partnership. Some problems sometimes seemed unsolvable. The sides, however, have never made political demarches and never slammed the doors. Ashgabat and Kiev could always find a way for the constructive reconsideration of their positions for the sake of mutual benefit.

At the time when economically weak Ukraine could not pay the gas debts, the Turkmen side found a possibility of smooth restructuring of the Ukrainian debts to support its permanent partner. Nobody made gifts to each other, giving priority to pragmatic approaches in solving the problem. The atmosphere of trust proved that no collective agreements within the CIS could replace the strict work of the bilateral mechanism of partnership.

The new Ukrainian leader's desire to confirm inviolability of the established parity in the bilateral relations during his personal meeting with his Turkmen counterpart becomes understandable against exactly this background of the long-standing constructive cooperation. Whatever criticism Victor Yushchenko has in his predecessor's address, his team got valuable heritage as regards the Ukrainian-Turkmen relations. By the way, it was current Ukrainian prime-minister Yuliya Timoshenko who made a kind of breakthrough in relations with Ashgabat when she was in charge of the oil and gas complex of Ukraine.

The time since Victor Yushchenko's visit to Turkmenistan has proved that the new leadership of Ukraine seeks the dynamic development of partnership. Kiev's proposal to raise the status of the bilateral commission to the level of interstate commission is another evidence of this. The Turkmen leader approved this idea and made a step toward Ukraine inviting its companies to participate in the development of the Caspian shelf. One can be sure that a meeting between Niyazov and Yushchenko in Moscow on May 8 will fill the cooperation between the two countries with new specifics.

Michael PEREPLESNIN

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