Ukraine denies breaking embargo

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The Ukrainian Foreign Minister yesterday denied reports that there has been sanctions-busting by Ukrainian vessels transporting goods along the Danube into Serbia, writes Steve Crawshaw. Anatoly Zlenko said: 'We don't have any people who break sanctions - absolutely not.'

There has been international concern in recent weeks at Ukraine's apparent failure to clamp down on would-be sanctions-busters. But Mr Zlenko, who met Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, on Tuesday, insisted: 'There are no violations.'

Mr Zlenko served as a senior minister under the hardline Ukrainian Communist Party leader, Vladimir Shcherbitsky, and became Foreign Minister in 1990, while Communism was still entrenched. Now, he seems to have changed his text, but not his dogma, judging by his comments on Ukraine's own politics, and on relations with neighbouring Russia.

Mr Zlenko argued that the threatened prosecution of two Ukrainian journalists in Kiev for criticising the president, Leonid Kravchuk, was justified, and normal. He declared: 'I can provide you with many examples of interventions against journalists in foreign states.'

On one point at least, Mr Zlenko might find himself in agreement with many others in the former Soviet Union. He declared: 'At the moment, I don't see a future for the Commonwealth of Independent States.'

Mr Zlenko made it clear that none of the underlying problems in relations between Russia and Ukraine has been solved. On the division of the Black Sea Fleet, Mr Zlenko said: 'It seems clear to us that everything on our territory should be the property of our state.' Russia argues that it is entitled to a share of the naval spoils. He flatly rejected the idea of any compromise on the Crimea, a Russian-majority territory which that was handed over by Russia to Ukraine in 1954, and which has sought to secede from Ukraine.

Ukraine, the largest republic in the former Soviet Union after Russia, has made some progress towards economic and political reform since the August coup last year; the former opposition has gained some ground. But, despite Ukraine's trumpeted independence, the road towards democracy is confused, at best.

Mr Zlenko's uncompromising tone yesterday served as a reminder that the former Communist establishment, from which he and many other Ukrainian leaders have emerged, is still strong.