Ukrainian claim of support drags West into Crimea row

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The Independent Online
UKRAINE yesterday dragged its increasingly ominous dispute with Crimea on to the international arena in earnest, claiming support from leading Western powers and accusing President Boris Yeltsin of inflaming tension over the issue.

The British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, who was in Kiev as part of a long-planned trip to the former Soviet Union, found himself in the middle of the dispute when President Leonid Kravchuk publicly greeted him with the words: 'I want to thank Britain for its support in the Crimean problem. I hope we continue to have the same support from Britain and other parts of the world.'

Earlier, Mr Kravchuk's government leaked what it said were letters of support from the foreign ministers of the United States and Germany.

In fact, the 'support' from all three Western powers amounted to nothing more than their insistence on the territorial integrity and border stability of Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

The overwhelmingly Russian majority in Crimea, seeking independence and ultimately unification with Russia, is unlikely to be dissuaded by such statements - any more than were the republics of Yugoslavia when the West vainly hoped it would hold together more than three years ago.

Mr Hurd told Mr Yeltsin before leaving Moscow yesterday that Crimea was 'an integral part of Ukraine'. The leaked letter from his German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel, said: 'The territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine cannot be put into doubt by anyone.' US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said: 'Ukraine has acted in a manner consistent with the highest principles of the CSCE' - the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Mr Kravchuk accused Mr Yeltsin of interference in his country's internal affairs following the latter's televised comment last week that he had warned the Ukrainian president not to use force in the dispute. 'A president can only issue warnings to his own government bodies and ministers and not to the president of other countries,' Mr Kravchuk said.

The former ideological chief of the Ukrainian Communist Party accused the Russian press of 'rabid and dishonest' statements, adding: 'We do not accept at state level attacks on neighbours with which we want long-term friendly and equal relations.'

As he spoke, the second day of talks between the Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yefim Zvyagilsky, on the division of the Black Sea fleet based at the Crimean port of Sevastopol, made little progress.

In Kiev, a Crimean parliamentary delegation held unsuccessful talks with Ukrainian counterparts on the dispute that sparked the latest crisis: the decision by the Crimean parliament last week to restore a 1992 constitution that includes provisions for dual nationality and separate Crimean armed forces. The Kiev parliament has set Crimea a deadline for Monday to rescind the vote.

Reports from the Crimean capital of Simferopol indicated an uneasy calm in the city with large numbers of troops in the streets. Ukraine said it had deployed its national guard there as a planned law and order exercise and not in response to the dispute.

Mr Hurd insisted that he was 'not taking sides' in the conflict. In response to Mr Kravchuk's call for an intervention by the UN Security Council, Mr Hurd indicated that he would much prefer to refer the matter to the CSCE instead. He was clearly reluctant to place the matter in the hands of a body in which Russia holds permanent membership. 'You start off at the UN with a one-paragraph statement and end up with people hanging all sorts of bells and whistles on it,' said one British official.

Although Mr Yeltsin agrees that for now Crimea - handed over to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 - is part of Ukrainian territory, many in the Moscow power structure do not agree. Delegations from the Duma have visited Crimea to encourage its pro-Russian president, Yuri Meshkov, to secede. Russians still have difficulty accepting Ukrainian independence, let alone the loss of Crimea, a heartbeat of Russian military history.