Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday reaffirmed U.S. support for a non-aligned Ukraine, saying the notion Kyiv should be oriented toward either the United States or Russia is a "false choice." Clinton held talks in Kyiv with key Ukrainian political figures including President Viktor Yanukovych.
Mr. Yanukovych, who scored a narrow election victory in February to return as Ukraine's president after a six-year absence, is widely seen as being more pro-Russian than his predecessor, Victor Yushchenko.
But he has sent mixed signals in his first months in office, curtailing Ukrainian ties with NATO, but also promising to continue democratic reforms and pledging at last April's Washington summit on nuclear security to give up Ukraine's stockpile of highly enriched uranium.
At a joint press event with Mr. Yanukovych, Clinton said Ukrainians should resist those trying to force their country into a choice between aligning with Russia or the West.
"We believe that is a false choice. Ukraine is an independent nation and we hope Ukraine will have good relations with its neighbors, including Russia, and that Ukraine will pursue close constructive relationships with the United States and countries of the European Union," said Clinton. "We do not believe in the concept of spheres of influence. We believe it is up to Ukrainians to chart your own course to your own future," she stressed.
Mr. Yanukovych, for his part, welcomed U.S. support for Ukrainian economic reforms and in critical negotiations under way this week on an International Monetary Fund aid package for Ukraine.
Heard through an interpreter, the Ukrainian president said his government is grateful for consistent American support for its independence since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"We highly appreciate the consistent position of the United States, that was reaffirmed today, to guarantee Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and the inviolability of its borders. This is of special importance to Ukraine as a European, non-bloc nation. I want to emphasize that the United States of America is our reliable strategic partner."
The talks here also covered energy, including Ukraine's often problematic role as host of a critical pipeline for Russian gas supplies to Europe.
Mr. Yuschenko told Clinton Ukraine will seek financing from Russia and Western Europe for a new gas pipeline across its territory to assure uninterrupted supplies.
Clinton said economic reforms could clear the way for U.S. investments to help develop Ukraine's own energy resources including gas from shale deposits and civil nuclear energy.
The secretary also met at her Kyiv hotel with opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Mr. Yanukovych's arch-rival who faces possible prosecution for alleged misdeeds in office.
At an earlier meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryschchenko, Clinton again said the U.S. administration intends to pursue better relations with Moscow despite revelations this week of an alleged Russian spy ring in the United States.
The secretary cited President Obama's description of the spy affair as something from the 20th century.
"We are now 10 years into the 21st century and we are looking toward the future, and are committed to taking actions which are in the interests of American security and values, and also by the way in the interests of the kind of future that the leaders of Russia tell us they wish to have for their own people."
Clinton declined comment on whether any Russian officials identified as handlers of the alleged spies might be expelled from the United States.
Senior U.S. officials earlier this week appeared to rule out any diplomatic repercussions over the affair.