U.S. Will Post Envoy in Crimea

APOrhyzko and Rice signing a charter at the U.S. State Department on Friday.
WASHINGTON -- The United States intends to open a diplomatic post in Ukraine's Crimea, a region that is home to many ethnic Russians as well as Russia's Black Sea fleet and is a source of tension between Kiev and Moscow.

The U.S. plan was laid out in a joint U.S.-Ukrainian declaration on expanding economic and security ties, signed Friday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Crimean post was not meant to provoke Russia, which defeated Georgia's military in August in a war over the pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia. The war raised worries about Kremlin intentions elsewhere in Russian-populated areas of the former Soviet Union, including Crimea.

"Ukraine welcomes the United States' intention to establish an American diplomatic presence (American presence post) in Simferopol," said the joint declaration, called a "Charter on Strategic Partnership."

President George W. Bush leaves office Jan. 20, but McCormack was unclear about whether the Bush administration would open the diplomatic post before then or to leave a recommendation for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Ohryzko told reporters that it "probably will be done next year" but declined to be more precise about Ukraine's expectations.

Washington also pledged in the declaration to help strengthen Ukraine's candidacy for membership in the NATO military alliance -- an idea anathema to Moscow.

The declaration, which does not have the binding status of a treaty, said Washington would work within a NATO-Ukraine commission to agree on a plan for training and equipping Ukrainian armed forces to make them more "interoperable" with NATO.

Washington also promised to help Ukraine with "rehabilitating and modernizing the capacity of Ukraine's gas transit infrastructure." No details were provided.

McCormack said the U.S. diplomatic post would be a small one with a range of work from "cultural events to doing political reporting," and denied any intention to upset Russia.