Yanukovych Warms Up To Russians At Sochi

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine indicated on Saturday that it may soften its stance towards Russia-backed regional organizations and was also ready to make changes to its position in talks over natural gas prices.

Viktor Yanukovych (L) and Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia.

President Viktor Yanukovych traveled to Sochi for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to deliver the messages, underscoring the importance of the suggested changes.

Yanukovych said Ukraine was seeking observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security bloc that includes Russia, China, Kyrgyztsan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

"We would like to become observers in this organization so that we would be able to take part in integration processes on this territory," Yanukovych said in comments released by his press service.

Yanukovych’s visit to attend Putin’s Black Sea residence Bocharov Ruchey was announced on Friday, a day before the meeting, suggesting it wasn’t planned before.

The joining of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization would be a major change in Ukraine’s foreign policy, which for a decade had focused on increasing cooperation with NATO and the European Union.

Ukraine’s relations with the EU have stumbled earlier this year over what Brussels sees as politically motivated prosecutions of Ukrainian opposition leaders.

Ukraine has long resisted calls from Moscow to join Russia-backed regional economic and trade blocs, always underscoring that Kiev’s foreign policy goals were to increase cooperation - and eventually to join - the EU.

The developments come as Ukraine has failed to persuade Russia over the past 28 months to lower natural gas prices amid disagreements over a number of issues.

Moscow said it would lower the gas prices only if Ukraine joins a Customs Union, a trade bloc that also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, or if Kiev agrees to sell majority stake in its natural gas pipelines to Gazprom of Russia.

Ukraine has so far resisted to do both, but Yanukovych on Saturday indicated that the government may change its position at the gas talks, without providing further details.

"The issue (of gas supplies from Russia) will never be excluded from our relations and will always remain sensitive," Yanukovych said.

"We would like to slightly alter our positions in our relations with Russia."

Ukraine has been seeking to lower the gas prices to less than $250 per 1,000 cubic meters, down from $425/1,00 cu m currently.

After failing to reach any agreement over the past two years, Ukraine said it would reduce imports of Russian gas to 27 billion cubic meters in 2012, down from 40 billion cu m in 2011.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The organization’s goal was declared as confronting terrorism, separatism and extremism.

Some said that the organization was aimed by Russia and China at counterbalancing the activities of the United States and NATO in Central Asia.

The organization’s observer states include Iran, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia and Pakistan.

Its six full members account for 60% of the land mass of Eurasia and its population is a quarter of the world's.

With observer states included, its affiliates account for half of the human race.

Source: Ukrainian Journal