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Kiev connection ruffles US

New Delhi, Oct. 2: The US and Russia are uneasy about Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma’s visit to India.

Kuchma will be the first Ukrainian President to tour India in eight years. Both sides are attaching a lot of importance to this visit and hoping it will pave the way for closer cooperation in key areas, like defence, commerce, and science and technology.

Kuchma, at present, appears to be Washington’s favourite whipping boy. The US is accusing Ukraine of supplying the Kalchuha radar systems to Baghdad in violation of the UN sanctions imposed on the Saddam Hussein regime. Kiev has denied the charges and claimed that the three radar systems were delivered to Ethiopia and they still remain there.

Ukrainian foreign minister Vladimir Zelenko has moved the UN to probe the charge. But last week, the US government suspended the annual $54 million-aid it allots to Kiev for good governance for its alleged supply of the radar system to Iraq.

Russia, on the other hand, considers Ukraine to be a bitter rival in its defence and commercial deals.

Although Moscow has tried to improve its relation with Kiev in the past two years, they have remained rivals on export of steel, gas turbines, military hardware and other areas.

Besides, Moscow — which considers Ukraine and other CIS countries its backyard — is not very comfortable with Ukraine making an independent attempt to probe the Indian market.

But Delhi is unfazed by the US and Russian reactions to the visit. It views the occasion as an opportunity for the two sides to build a close and deep commercial future and is going all out to ensure that the four-day stay goes off smoothly.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will organise a banquet in his honour on October 3. The Ukrainian President will interact with all key members of the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha.

He will also meet Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi.

On October 4, Kuchma will fly to Bangalore and meet leading business houses there. He will also visit the Wipro and Infosys outfits.

Given that a 30-member business delegation will be accompanying the Ukrainian President, the emphasis of his visit will be on trade and commerce. On the pipeline are three agreements — one on shipping, an extradition treaty and another agreement on mutual legal assistance.

The two sides are likely to issue a joint statement at the end of the tour, with the highlight on the resolve to fight global terrorism. Ukraine may also express its support for India’s candidature to the UN Security Council, while Delhi may back Kiev’s entry into the World Trade Organisation.

India’s ties with Ukraine deteriorated in 1996, when Kiev decided to sell the TAT-UD battle tanks to Pakistan. Relations were further strained when in May 1998 Ukraine joined other countries in condemning India’s nuclear tests, following which Delhi put a freeze on bilateral ties with Kiev. But over the past few years, Ukraine has been sending feelers that it wanted to repair the damage.

For India, it is important to keep its relations with Ukraine alive. For, besides being an important member of the Confederation of Independent States, Ukraine is also slated to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The Nato already has a peace programme going with Ukraine and, in 2010, Kiev will become a full-fledged member of the organisation.

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