By Hrach Melkumian
The presidents of Armenia and Ukraine pledged to strengthen political, economic and military relations between the two former Soviet states during talks in Yerevan on Thursday. President Robert Kocharian and his visiting Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, welcomed a steady growth in bilateral trade over the last three years, saying that increasing its volume further is the chief priority of their governments.
"Our relations in all fields, including the economy, science and culture, will always be on the rise," Kuchma declared after the two sides signed a package of bilateral agreements.
Kuchma arrived in Armenia on Wednesday on a three-day official visit, leaving behind a tense political situation at home where the Ukrainian opposition has been campaigning for his resignation for the last several weeks.
Speaking at a joint news conference after the talks, Kuchma and Kocharian said they agreed to launch military cooperation between their countries. But details of an agreement signed in Yerevan by the Armenian and Ukrainian defense ministers remained unclear.
Kocharian said only that the two countries "have a serious potential for cooperating in the military-technical sphere as well." Kuchma agreed, saying: "This is our first, but, I think, not the last step."
The Itar-Tass news agency quoted a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman as saying on Wednesday that the defense agreement provides, among other things, for the training of Armenian military personnel in Ukrainian military academies. The official, Konstantin Khivrenko, said Kiev and Yerevan will also exchange appropriate experience and consider joint participation in international peace-keeping contingents.
One of the four agreements signed during Kuchma's trip aims to step up Armenian-Ukrainian cooperation in the field of energy. It envisages, in particular, mutual supplies of equipment. Another agreement calls for "mutual protection of secret information between the two governments."
The volume of Ukrainian-Armenian trade almost doubled last year to $38.5 million. Kocharian said it will increase by 30 percent this year.
The Ukrainian leader's Thursday engagements also included a meeting with leaders of political parties represented in the Armenian parliament and a visit to the Tsitsernakabert Genocide Memorial in Yerevan.
On Wednesday night Kocharian entertained Kuchma at a popular Yerevan cafe. The Aragast jazz club, Kocharian's favorite nightspot, earned notoriety in September 2001 after the Armenian president's bodyguards reportedly beat to death a man in the restroom. Only one of them was prosecuted and got off with a one-year suspended sentence as a result of an official inquiry marred with allegations of a cover-up.
Aragast has since continued to be on the itinerary of foreign leaders visiting Armenia.