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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Friendship Pact With Kiev Ratified

Lawmakers ratified a long-delayed friendship treaty with Ukraine on Friday after the Russian government warned that rejection would push Kiev toward closer links with NATO.

The parliament's lower house, the State Duma, voted 244-30 to ratify the treaty signed by Russia's Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in May 1997.

Kuchma hailed the ratification, saying the treaty would benefit both nations. Ukraine's parliament speaker, Oleksandr Tkachenko, also welcomed the move.

Ukraine's legislature overwhelmingly ratified the treaty last January, but the Communist-dominated Duma had balked at approval, demanding that Ukraine stop cooperation with NATO. The treaty commits the two nations to peaceful relations and resolves some territorial issues.

Russia and Ukraine, together with another Slav republic, Belarus, played a key role in breaking up the Soviet Union in December 1991, but bitter feuds over trade, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, rights of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine and a series of other issues have soured bilateral relations.

Russian nationalists have also questioned Ukraine's rights to the mostly Russian-populated Crimean peninsula, a former Russian province formally signed off to Ukraine in the 1950s by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Russia has also been alarmed by Ukraine's progress in ties with NATO. Ukraine has been participating in the Western alliance's Partnership for Peace program, angering Russian nationalists who oppose NATO plans to expand into central and eastern Europe.

Many Russian politicians, including Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, claim that Sevastopol, a port on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, belongs to Russia.

Duma opponents of the friendship treaty argued that under the deal Russia would finally give up any claims to Crimea, currently the home base of its Black Sea Fleet, but will get few guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who addressed the Duma before the vote Friday, urged the lawmakers to forgo their claims on the Crimea and other demands and ratify the treaty.

"Putting territorial demands to Ukraine would not only derange bilateral relations for a long time, but also violate the international norms and seriously complicate the situation in Europe," he said.

Refusal to ratify the treaty would strengthen those forces in Ukraine who "favor even closer relations with NATO," Ivanov said.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and most other faction leaders supported the treaty . The only voice of dissent was that of ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who opposed ratification, calling the treaty a "product of anti-Russian forces."

The Duma also passed Friday a resolution calling on the Ukrainian parliament to say that Kiev wasn't going to join NATO. It also asked Ukraine to end violation of rights of Russian speakers. Ukraine has denied any such violations.