BY DAVID GOLLUST FOR VOA NEWS – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, at the start of a five-nation trip to central Europe and the Caucasus region. She holds talks with Ukrainian officials, including President Viktor Yanukovych, who was voted back into office earlier this year after a six-year absence.
Mr. Yanukovych is considered more pro-Russian than his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, a hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution that ended Mr. Yanukovych’s first term as president.
But since being sworn into office in February, Mr. Yanukovych has sent conciliatory signals to the west, among them visiting Brussels rather than Moscow on his first foreign trip.
At the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April with President Obama, the Ukrainian leader announced his country was giving up its entire stockpile of 90 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium, enough to build several nuclear weapons.
Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Philip Gordon says Ukraine has “every right” to want close relations with Russia, but that U.S. officials are encouraged by Mr. Yanukovych’s expressed desire for good relationships with Europe and the United States as well.
Gordon says he hopes the improvement of U.S.-Russian relations, underscored by President Dmitri Medvedev’s Washington visit last week, will give central European countries the political space to pursue an independent course.
“We want to get beyond the notion that European diplomacy and security is a zero-sum game, and that countries in central Europe need to choose whether they’re going to be pro-Russian or pro-American. Indeed, one of the things we’ve said about the relationship with Russia is that when the United States has a better relationship with Russia, that is actually a benefit to countries in Central Europe because they don’t feel obliged to choose or orient, one way or another,” he said.
Gordon insists that the Obama administration’s “reset” (to set again) of relations with Moscow is in the interests of both powers, and will not be affected by revelations this week of an alleged Russian spy ring in the United States.
Secretary Clinton is taking part with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstyantyn Hryschchenko in a meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission, and will also meet with opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Clinton goes on to Krakow, Poland, on Saturday for a policy speech at an observance of the tenth anniversary of the Community of Democracies, founded in 2000 by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her late Polish counterpart Bronislaw Geremek.
She will also hold talks with current Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, and attend a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of Polish leaders, including President Lech Kaczynski killed in last April’s plane crash in Russia.
Clinton is due in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, late Saturday night to begin a brief Caucasus tour, her first since taking office, that also includes stops in Armenia and Georgia.
She intends to reaffirm U.S. support for Georgian territorial integrity and for full implementation of the cease-fire accord that ended Georgia’s brief war with Russia in 2008.
She will also press for action toward settlement of the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, and for renewed momentum toward fully normal relations between Armenia and Turkey.