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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Hails Better Relations With Kiev

President Boris Yeltsin on Friday likened years of tension with post-Soviet Ukraine to a pointless tiff between old neighbors and said relations are returning to an even keel.

"You must agree it's strange that for six whole years we've lived in conditions of mutual reproach and misunderstanding. Someone had to take the initiative to relieve the tension," he said in his weekly nationwide radio address.

"With the president of Ukraine, we've done this, and we're busy now sweeping away the dross from our bilateral relations," he said.

Yeltsin met Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma outside Moscow last weekend for informal but avowedly friendly talks, during which trade and investment agreements were mapped out.

"Russian-Ukrainian relations are on the mend. Now the main thing is that everyone feels the results," Yeltsin said.

Russia agreed to waive import duties on 600,000 tons of Ukrainian sugar every year and to cooperate with Kiev in the oil and gas industry and developing the Antonov An-70 cargo plane.

Russia and Ukraine parted company in 1991, but the two biggest former Soviet republics -- Russia has 150 million people; Ukraine and 50 million -- have struggled to define separate national identities after centuries of common history and culture.

They argued for years over the division of Soviet assets, notably the Black Sea fleet, and over Ukraine's flirtation with NATO and the fate of the largely ethnic Russian population of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Moscow efforts to restore its influence over the old territories of the Soviet Union has been met with suspicion in Kiev, where the leadership has been striving to create a sense of national identity and forge closer ties with Ukraine's western neighbors.

Yeltsin summed up the problems many Russians still have even with regarding Ukraine as a separate country. Many families can identify a mixed background, including his own, he said.

"Now we have two self-reliant, independent states. But borders should not divide people's destines and split up families. I, too, have family in Ukraine," Yeltsin said.

Highlighting the problem, he noted senseless arguments about the nationality of Yaroslav the Wise, prince of Kiev, who united the nation known as Rus in the 10th century, and of 19th-century writer Nikolai Gogol, born in Ukraine, who wrote in Russian. Yelstin recalled one of Gogol's popular tales of rural life in Ukraine, "How Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan Nikiforovich Fell Out," a story of two old friends arguing over a trifle.

"We have awakened in time to see where mutual obstinacy can lead. It's not for our countries to behave like Gogol's famous heroes," the president said. "Remember how Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan Nikiforovich fell out and how easily an old friendship was ruined by a hurtful word and splitting hairs."