KIEV, Ukraine — Former President Richard Nixon said Wednesday that the United States will at some point face a choice between Russia and Ukraine as a focus for its support in Eastern Europe.
Nixon, speaking during a one-day visit to Ukraine, said he was aware of concern in former Soviet republics over the rise of ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky in Russia after parliamentary elections in December.
“There is no question that since the elections there has been a much more assertive position toward Ukraine and other countries” in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Nixon told a joint news conference with President Leonid Kravchuk.
“I do not say that most of the leaders go along with the position of Zhirinovsky and other extremist leaders. But there is no doubt that sometime in the future there will be occasions when the U.S. will have to look at Ukraine and look at Russia and say, ‘Who do we choose?’ ”
Nixon, 81, said the threat of nationalism in Russia will recede once economic prosperity takes hold. He dismissed suggestions that Russia is about to “make a move–certainly not militarily, nor economically.”
“Russia is a great power, but it would not serve Russia presently to take more on its plate than it already has domestically,” he said.
Kravchuk, who returned from a visit to the United States last week, said Washington has to support economic and political reforms in both Ukraine and Russia.
“There should be no serious confrontations and no conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Because this threatens the whole world, not just Russia and Ukraine,” he said. “The United States has no alternative. They have one choice, to support reform and democracy in Ukraine and Russia, and not at the expense of either of them.”
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has frequently been at odds with Russia on political and strategic issues and has complained that Moscow received the lion’s share of Western financial assistance.
Nixon also defended his meetings with Russian opposition leaders, adding that he wished that he had time to meet with opposition figures during his Ukraine visit.
The former U.S. President said it is important to gauge political sentiments across all sectors of a democracy.
Nixon was snubbed in Moscow by President Boris N. Yeltsin after he met with one of the Russian leader’s fiercest rivals, former Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi. Rutskoi was one of the leaders of the armed opposition to Yeltsin last fall.
Nixon also met with Zhirinovsky, who claimed that Russia is on the verge of a coup, and with other Yeltsin critics.
“I did something in Russia that no one has ever done, something that I have not done in my 10 visits to the Soviet Union,” Nixon said. “I met with every opposition leader. I covered everybody. It is very important in a democracy not to just meet the leaders in power.”
Nixon said he will report to President Clinton on the results of his visit to the former Soviet Union but stressed that he was expressing his own views.