Russia squares up to Albright

As Russia's leaders braced themselves to lock horns with the US Secretary of State, Mad-eleine Albright, blows began to rain down on Moscow from another quarter yesterday - the republic of Ukraine.

In an interview timed to coincide with the arrival of Ms Albright in Moscow, the Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, delivered his strongest- ever tirade against Russia. "They make it look as if Ukraine does not exist as a sovereign state," he told Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Russia will not be happy that Mr Kuchma - with whom it has been wrangling over the Black Sea fleet - chose to speak out just before its talks with Ms Albright, who has offered incentives such as a Nato-Russian brigade, but who has shown little hint of willingness to move in key areas.

Nato is unlikely to agree to Russia's demand for a legally binding agreement governing their relationship. Moscow is, Western sources say, doomed to make little headway should it press for a pledge from the alliance not eventually to admit the Baltics - a potential flashpoint in East-West relations.

n Vienna (Reuters) - Nato put forward a proposal at conventional- arms reduction talks in Vienna aimed at calming Moscow's fears that Nato could pile up weapons on Russia's borders.