Today at 06:35 | ReutersSecretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to respond to a flurry of pro-Russian moves by Ukraine's new leadership by signalling renewed U.S. interest in the ex-Soviet republic during a visit on Friday.
Kicking off a five-country regional tour, Clinton arrived in Kiev in the early morning hours of Friday, the first trip to Ukraine by a top U.S. official since President Viktor Yanukovich was elected in February, ousting pro-Western leaders and tilting policy towards Moscow.
Unlike ex-Soviet Georgia, which Clinton will also visit, the Yanukovich leadership sees little danger in U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with Russia.
Since taking over from the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko, Yanukovich has abandoned the aim of joining NATO, extended the stay of the Russian navy in a Ukrainian Black Sea port and stepped up commercial contacts with Russia.
But he would like Washington's blessing for what he says is a pragmatic policy that looks both to Russia and the West, and for Ukraine's efforts to stabilise its economy with help from global financial lenders.
An IMF mission is currently in Kiev for what the government hopes will be conclusive talks on a multi-billion-dollar loan to boost Ukraine's economic recovery.
Washington applauded in April Yanukovich's move to get rid of highly-enriched uranium and has reacted publicly with some indifference to his downgrading of relations with NATO.
Clinton herself has recognised Ukraine's need to manage a "balancing act" between Russia and the West.
U.S. officials, ahead of Clinton's trip, said improved U.S.-Russian relations were good for Russia's neighbours and countries should not have to choose between one or the other -- comments that should hearten the Yanukovich leadership.
COMMITMENT TO DEMOCRACY
At the same time, however, analysts expected Clinton to make clear that Washington remained interested in Ukraine's direction under Yanukovich and its commitment to democracy.
"One of the things that I hope the Secretary does when she is in Kiev is say, 'look, from the outside it looks like you have leaned rather dramatically toward Russia'," said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"'If in fact you are interested in a more balanced relationship, you might want to pay some more attention to your relations with the United States and with Europe,'" Pifer added.
Clinton is due to meet late on Friday former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovich's arch-rival who is now in opposition and under the shadow of possible prosecution for alleged misdemeanours while in office.
"There will be a single message: that U.S. interest in Ukraine and what is happening not only in foreign policy but also in internal policy is now being renewed," said Valery Chaly, deputy head of the Razumkov analytical centre in Kiev.
Chaly expected Clinton to press Yanukovich to ensure that there are no infringements of media freedoms and freedom of assembly in Ukraine. Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Kiev John Tefft expressed concern about reports of pressure on journalists since Yanukovich came to power.
"Obama does not intend to back away from the policy of defending democracy. So there will be a signal (from Clinton) to the Ukrainian president that a row-back to authoritarianism and moving away from press freedom is not permissible," political analyst Alena Hetmanchuk wrote in the newspaper Segodnya. Clinton stops in Krakow, Poland, on Saturday for a gathering of the Community of Democracies, a group that promotes democratic norms, and then visits Azerbaijan and Armenia, which have long sparred over Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Read more: http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/71740/#ixzz0sWgKFF67