PUTIN REFERS TO RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN RELATIONS AS "FRATERNAL"

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SOCHI, August 18 (RIA Novosti) - Vladimir Putin has described Russian-Ukrainian relations as follows, "Like any family folk, we have problems and contradictions and arguments, but our relations today are of a friendly nature."

Asked how he would appraise the current state of bilateral relations as against last year and what prospects he sees for the next year, Leonid Kuchma said: "If you had put this question a year ago, I would have said that our relations had improved a lot but now I just lack words to express my content. I think my looks are more eloquent than my words."

The Ukrainian president noted that "we can talk now about everything, but I can't comment on the next year's developments" (Leonid Kuchma's presidential term ends this year).

He expressed confidence that the foundation and strategy of our relations were not to be changed. "If you fluctuate from side to side, you may break your neck, but looking around is quite beneficial," said Mr. Kuchma.

Vladimir Putin remarked: "Why then not give the word to the man sitting on your right" (Ukrainian Prime Minister and Presidential Candidate Viktor Yanukovich).

Mr. Yanukovich reported about his recent visit to the Athos monastery, the center of Orthodox monasticism in Greece. "The monastery head asked our Ukraine's Metropolitan Panteleimon who accompanied me about his view on the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The priest's answer was like this, 'You see that the Ukrainian prime minister has come here to pray for the good of our peoples, for Russian-Ukrainian relations to be smooth, quiet and deep like a great river.' I fully agree with these words," said Mr. Yanukovich.

When meeting today, the Russian and Ukrainian presidents declared in favor of setting up common checkpoints at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Relevant proposals were uttered by Leonid Kuchma who believes this can simplify border crossing for people and commodities. Vladimir Putin reacted with the following statement: "Russia sees benefits in implementing this proposal which meets the interests of both Russia and Ukraine." Mr. Kuchma then complained that he felt awkward before people who have to face so many difficulties when crossing the border. "The presidents and governments are to blame for this and therefore I suggest sitting down at the negotiation table to resolve the problem of border-crossing by people and commodities. We should not idle away time but move forward," said Mr. Kuchma.

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine have entrusted the prime ministers of the two countries with holding a session of an expert commission for making exemptions from the free trade zone. Vladimir Putin proposed that the prime ministers sit on this commission. "It is for enhancing the level of the commission," he said.

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