Russia, Ukraine Sign Accord For Economic Cooperation

KIEV -- The Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers initialed a 10-year program of economic cooperation between their countries Friday, saying the plan would allow them to double their trade.

"The program reflects the needs of the Ukrainian and Russian economies, the interests of our people," Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko said.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said after the signing that the program would allow Ukraine and Russia to double their trade turnover, which was about $14 billion last year.

The figure decreased by about $2 billion from 1996 amid scraps over value-added taxes and other issues.

President Boris Yeltsin of Russia and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, are expected to sign the plan at their summit in Moscow next week.

In an interview on Ukrainian television, Yeltsin praised his personal ties with Kuchma and called the 10-year plan "most important."

"It is worth meeting to sign such a document," he said.

In a meeting with Kuchma, Chernomyrdin dismissed the Ukrainian president's assertion that Russia alone cannot cover Ukraine's gas needs.

"During the next 100 years, Russia will be able to provide for Ukrainian needs," Interfax quoted Chernomyrdin as saying.

At a session of the joint Russian-Ukrainian cooperation commission held during Chernomyrdin's visit, the sides also discussed the situation with Ukrainian debts to Russian natural gas giant Gazprom, which total $1.2 billion.

The two sides plan to meet in Moscow next month to discuss the issue.