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Ukraine trade trip

New Delhi, Aug 6: Ukraine may continue supplying arms to Pakistan, but its foreign minister Anatoly Zlenko’s visit to India is a clear indication that despite differences, the countries are trying to build a close relationship.

Zlenko arrives here on Sunday on a three-day official visit. But his main discussions with host and Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha will take place on Monday. He may meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi.

Business and economic ties will be one of the thrusts of the visit and he will address the captains of Indian industry at a meeting organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries. Ukraine’s arms supply to Pakistan is a difficult area in its relations with India. “This is an issue which will definitely be raised by us during meetings with the Ukrainian foreign minister,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

In the Soviet days, Ukraine had a major presence in the Indian power, steel and metallurgy sectors, but relations between the two sides soured since 1996 when Kiev decided to sell TAT-UD battle tanks to Pakistan. Ukraine’s decision to join other countries in condemning the Indian nuclear tests of May 1998 added further creases and Delhi decided to put a freeze on ties.

However, over the past few years, Ukraine has been sending feelers to convince India that it wants to repair the damage. The thaw in the relations began last October when Leonid Kuchma became the first President from Ukraine to visit India in eight years. The visit paved the way for areas where the two sides could work with each other more closely despite differences.

Ukraine has significantly brought down its defence supply to Pakistan over the years. At present, it is only supplying engines for Alkhali battle tanks.

India realises the shift in Ukraine’s position, but has decided to continue its protest till it cuts off all defence supplies to Islamabad.

Delhi is also not willing to give any assurance to Kiev that it can get a bigger share of the Indian arms market, which at the moment is dominated by Ukraine’s rival, Russia. Instead, India is focusing on bettering economic relations with Ukraine.

The bilateral trade at the moment is around $290 million. But both sides recognise that the figure does not justify the huge potential the two countries have in improving and strengthening trade cooperation. Ukraine is looking at the power, steel and metallurgy sectors in India where it can boost its exports, while India’s main focus is on the pharmaceuticals and textile sectors of Ukraine.

Zlenko’s visit will give the two sides opportunity to review the progress made on areas that were identified during Kuchma’s trip to India last year. India and Ukraine have already signed treaties on extradition, shipping and mutual legal assistance.

During Zlenko’s visit, two more agreements — one on tourism and another on confidential matters — are likely to be signed, indicating that the two sides are keen to broadbase their relations and move to other areas from where both could gain substantially.

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