- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Ukraine sees its future firmly linked to the West and has no interest in the proposed union with Belarus and Russia, a top aide to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said yesterday.
"Of course we want good relations with Russia, but there is a clear consensus in Ukraine today that our development must be linked to European structures," Vladimir Litvin, head of the presidential administration in Ukraine, said in an interview with The Washington Times yesterday. "No other alternative is even being considered."
Mr. Litvin is the highest-ranking Ukrainian official to visit Washington since President Bush took office. He arrived amid substantial international doubts about the course of market reforms and democratic freedoms in Ukraine under Mr. Kuchma.
The ouster of pro-reform Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko last month and the still-unsolved slaying of investigative journalist Gyorgy Gongadze have clouded the countrys reputation. Mr. Kuchma has strongly denied accusations by Ukrainian opposition parties that he played a role in Mr. Gongadzes death.
Without naming any suspects, Mr. Litvin said yesterday he believes that Mr. Gongadze, a sharp critic of the president, was eliminated by forces inside Ukraine trying to embarrass Mr. Kuchma.
"It was a provocation that got out of control," he said. "They were aiming at the president and they hit the countrys reputation in the world instead."
Despite a recent mixture of persuasion and pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine under Mr. Kuchma sees working with the West through the European Union and NATO as its top foreign policy priority, Mr. Litvin insisted.
Ukraine sees the United States, he added, "as the political guarantor of our independence."
Mr. Litvin was scheduled to meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage during his visit this week. Mr. Kuchma plans to travel to the United Nations summit on children in New York in the fall, but no meeting with Mr. Bush has been announced.
Mr. Bush has taken a keen interest in Ukraine in private conversations with regional leaders. The most populous of the states of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine is considered a key to stability in the region and the course of Russias post-Soviet foreign policy.
In his speech in Poland last week, Mr. Bush called Ukraine "a nation struggling with the trauma of transition."
"Some in Kiev speak of their countrys European destiny. If this is their aspiration, we should reward it," Mr. Bush said.
But Mr. Litvin said his government was seeking concrete expression of U.S. support in backing for aid to Ukraine in the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions and in changes in U.S. laws to allow lower tariffs on Ukrainian exports.
Mr. Litvin said he believed that Mr. Yushchenko, a former central banker, has been "mythologized" in the Western press and that he lost his post because he could not compromise with a parliament he could not control.
A coalition of Communists, Socialists and powerful business interests united to vote him out last month, despite the fact Ukraine was growing at its fastest clip since gaining independence in 1991.
The presidential aide said President Kuchma and the new prime minister, Anatoly Kinakh, former head of a industrialists lobby, remain committed to free-market reforms.

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