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Russians Talking Unity, Ukrainians Seeking a Divorce : Republics: One wants economic and other cooperation--the other its independence.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While Moscow politicians talk about a “common economic space” among the fracturing Soviet republics, the Ukrainian leadership has called for bids from Western bank-note printers to issue a separate currency.

Soviet and Russian leaders also persist in promising a united Soviet armed forces. But in the Ukraine, an autonomous Defense Ministry has been created and at least 500,000 Red Army troops have transferred to its command.

In a classic case of two sides talking while neither one listens, the Russian Federation seems to be counting on reconciliation while the Ukraine moves determinedly toward divorce.

Since the Aug. 19 Kremlin coup attempt discredited the central powers that have held the union together--the Communist Party, the KGB, the Red Army and the Soviet government--the Ukraine has abandoned its patient progression toward sovereignty in favor of swift and complete independence.

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Ukrainian leaders have agreed to support some central authority during the transition to statehood, but chances appear slim for Ukrainian membership in the Kremlin’s proposed new Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics.

“This would allow a return to the old structures which we have fought against and decisively rejected with our declaration of independence,” said Ivan F. Drach, leader of the rapidly expanding Ukrainian nationalist movement Rukh. “The majority of the people are against this proposed new center and in favor of full independence.”

The breakup of the Soviet Union has given vent to long-harbored dreams of self-rule and regional prominence for the Ukraine, which, with 52 million residents, is nearly as populous as Germany, France, Italy or Britain.

Unlike the tiny Baltic nations that depend heavily on other Soviet republics for vital resources, the Ukraine is blessed with extensive Black Sea coastline, fertile farmland, precious metals and rare minerals that, in theory, would allow the republic to be economically self-sufficient.

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However, the Ukraine is tightly bound within the political network directed by Moscow and suffers the same bureaucracy and inefficiency that have made the Soviet Union an economic basket case.

Ukrainians--whose name means “border people"--have been under Russian, Polish or Soviet rule for the past three centuries. After more than seven decades of domination by Moscow, they have seized the opportunity to go their own way. They’ve also amassed a stockpile of grievances over what they see as a long-running attempt to make them a colony of Russia.

“We are the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. We send everything to the center and get nothing back,” complained Sergei Voronov, a Kiev entrepreneur.

Secessionist sentiment has spilled out since the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet declared independence for the republic Aug. 24. Thousands of demonstrators draped in blue and yellow nationalist colors crowd the Parliament in Kiev daily, chanting secessionist slogans and denouncing the Russian Federation for allegedly seeking to create another union it can dominate.

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Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk has even come under fire for agreeing to let Moscow maintain some governing authority over the republics during their transition to independence. And Ukrainian delegates to last week’s Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies made clear they agreed to interim central rule only for another few months.

Ukrainian distaste for further union with Russia has become the central issue of a presidential campaign that will be decided at a Dec. 1 election, when the Parliament’s declaration of independence will also be submitted to a popular vote.

Only a few weeks ago, Kravchuk appeared untouchable in the first contested race for the republic presidency as his nationalist faction within the Ukrainian Communist Party retained strong support in the provinces. But Rukh, already a considerable opposition force, has experienced a political revival since all Soviet Communist parties were tainted by association with the failed coup.

The Communists enjoyed about a two-thirds majority in the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet, but after the putsch, many members of Parliament saw the handwriting on the wall for their party. Seeking to distance themselves from the coup plotters, Communist deputies jumped to the side of the secessionist opposition.

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Now, Rukh supporters predict a groundswell of support for their presidential candidate, Vyacheslav Chernovil.

With Kravchuk and Chernovil competing for votes among an independence-minded electorate, neither is likely to endorse a new union with Moscow for fear of alienating an increasingly nationalist public.

“The Ukraine will not sign the union treaty in the near future,” said Yevgeny Kushnarev, a deputy to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet and mayor of the city of Kharkov. “The Ukraine will continue to insist that the center’s role should be reduced.”

The commitment to a break with Moscow has also been fueled by what Ukrainians claim is a resurgence of Russian nationalism inspired by Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin’s lead role in facing down the coup leaders.

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As the Soviet Union fractures into its national pieces, Yeltsin has sought to assure Western countries that his republic will broker a new union and serve as the “guarantor” of Soviet nuclear disarmament.

But 200 strategic missiles capable of reaching the United States and other Western countries are currently deployed on Ukrainian territory, and Kiev political leaders contend that they should have a say in the weapons’ disposal.

Yeltsin’s international muscle-flexing has irritated Ukrainians, and an attempt to bully republics out of their secession plans has stirred outright anger.

Ukrainians say the repeated appeals for future unity only illustrate a policy of wishful thinking among Russian neighbors.

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“Russians cannot even imagine that the Ukraine may secede,” said Leonty I. Sandulyak, a physician from the Ukrainian city of Chernovtsy who attended last week’s congress in Moscow. “The Ukraine has stayed with Russia for 340 years and is now the richest of the republics. If there is no Ukraine in the Soviet Union, there is no Soviet Union at all.”

The Prosperous Ukraine

Leadership: Leonid Kravchuk is president and chairman of the Parliament. The republic declared its independence on Aug. 24, and this question along with a presidential election will be brought before the voters on Dec. 1.

Size: 231,990 square miles--third largest republic after Russia and Kazakhstan.

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Population: Second most populous republic after Russia with 52 million people. Of this total, 36.5 million are Ukrainians and 10.5 million are Russians. Other major groups include Byelorussians and Moldovans.

Capital: Kiev.

Economy: The Ukraine contains some of the richest agricultural land in the Soviet Union and produces much of the food. It contains the Donets coal field, iron mines and oil deposits as well as chemical and metallurgical industries.


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