Belarus, Ukraine to exchange ratification instruments for border treaty

\"We have absolutely no problems,\" Mr. Lukashenka said. \"We’ve reached and agreement on all problems and talk about joint projects...

Belarus and Ukraine are expected to soon exchange instruments of ratification for a state border treaty, BelaPAN reports.

"I think that they are also dealing with vexed issues regarding the Ukrainians' small debt to the Belarusians that dates back to those times, but this shouldn't be an impediment in our relations," Alyaksandr Lukashenka told reporters in the Homyel region on July 16, indirectly explaining why it had taken the two countries so long to exchange the ratification instruments.

"We have absolutely no problems," Mr. Lukashenka said. "We’ve reached and agreement on all problems and talk about joint projects [to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych] as a person who is not a stranger in terms of his roots and views," he said.

On June 3, the newspaper Kommersant-Ukraina reported with reference to a Ukrainian diplomat that the Belarusian and Ukrainian leaders had planned to meet in Ukraine's Chernihiv province on May 28 to exchange the ratification instruments.

According to the diplomat, who asked not to be named, Minsk demanded at the last minute that Ukraine pay $130 million, a state debt that it allegedly owes to Belarus.

Kommersant-Ukraina said that the dispute over the treaty could complicate Ukraine's talks on visa-free travel with the European Union. All countries seeking a visa-free travel agreement with the EU are required to have their land borders demarcated.

When reached by BelaPAN, Pavel Lyohki, head of the Belarusian leader's press office, shrugged off the report and accused the newspaper of trying to create a sensation out of nothing. He said that the report was aimed at "driving a wedge in normal relations between Belarus and Ukraine."

In late 2009, Belarus and Ukraine found what appeared to be a compromise solution, with Minsk pledging to write off the debt and Kyiv promising in return to sell electricity to the former at a discount.

The Belarusian legislature ratified the treaty this past April and Mr. Lukashenka signed it the following month.

The Belarusian-Ukrainian treaty on the delimitation and demarcation of the 1,145-kilometer border had been under preparation for five years. It was finally signed on May 12, 1997 during Mr. Lukashenka`s state visit to Ukraine and ratified by the Ukrainian parliament after two months. One year later, Mr. Lukashenka announced that Belarus would not ratify the treaty until Ukraine repaid its debt. "Belarus will ratify the treaty when all conditions have been fulfilled," he said.

The two countries have been in a dispute over the debt since 1992, when Ukraine withdrew from the Soviet Union`s ruble zone. Minsk insists that Ukraine failed to supply a huge amount of goods to Belarus, and that Belarusian companies paid for the goods but never received them. Kyiv argues that the debt was owed by Ukrainian companies, not by the Ukrainian government.

While meeting with the then Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, in November 2009, Alyaksandr Lukashenka promised that the Belarusian legislature would consider ratifying the treaty.

The treaty was ratified by the House of Representatives on April 2 and approved by the Council of the Republic (upper parliamentary house) on April 26.