Ukraine Seeks Equality With Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's prime minister called on Russia to stop treating Ukraine like ``a little brother,'' saying it was time for an equal relationship between Kiev and its former imperial master.

The comments by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the cancellation of a planned visit to Moscow were widely interpreted as signs of the ongoing chill in relations between Ukraine's new leadership and the Kremlin. Moscow had supported President Viktor Yushchenko's opponent in last year's presidential race.

``Relating to the cancellation of this visit, I would like for Russia to perceive Ukraine as an equal partner and not as a younger brother, so that the politicians and the countries can relate to one another with respect,'' Tymoshenko told the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Ukrainian service in an interview posted on its Web site Friday.

Tymoshenko postponed her planned trip to Moscow a day after Russian prosecutors refused to drop a criminal case against her. Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov had said the case had not been closed, and that Tymoshenko remained on the wanted list, although he reiterated that she would not face arrest because of immunity provided to state leaders.

Tymoshenko is accused of bribing Russian defense officials while she headed Ukraine's main gas distributor. She has said the charges were an effort by Russia to ``destroy her'' and her allies during last year's presidential campaign.

Tymoshenko repeated, however, that she postponed the trip to ensure that necessary spring field work in Ukraine - the former breadbasket of the Soviet Union - proceeded smoothly.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said the invitation to Tymoshenko still stands, and they were waiting for word from the Ukrainians.

``We are interested in conducting these talks, we believe they will play a very important role in the development of relations between our two countries,'' Yakovenko said.

Russia and Ukraine have already held two meetings at a presidential level, which both sides have insisted proceeded warmly despite the ambitions of Ukraine's new government to nudge this ex-Soviet republic on a westward course. Kiev relies on Russian energy supplies, and Russia needs Ukrainian pipelines to ship its oil and gas supplies to Europe.