Moscow (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Celebrations for the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Russ', the medieval birthplace of the modern states of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were held in an atmosphere of great controversy and reinforced security. Together with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to Kiev for the celebrations (July 27 and 28), exploiting the religious festival to convince his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, to stop the process of ' European integration and push the country's economic rapprochement with Russia.
The solemn ceremony was held on the hill of St. Vladimir, in the presence of heads of state like Putin, Yanukovych, the Moldovan Nicolae Timofti and Serbian Tomislav Nikolic. Among the religious authorities present, as well as Kirill, Metropolitan Volodimir, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church linked to Moscow. The Baptism of ancient Russia took place in what is now Ukrainian land. In 2010, the Russian Duma passed a law transforming into a national holiday the day when Prince Vladimir, in the late summer of 988, gathered the inhabitants of Kiev on the banks of the Dnieper, where Byzantine priests to baptize all. The event marked the beginning of a long process of foundation of Christianity in the Russian lands and holds a strong significance of Slavic unity, to which the Russian Patriarch often appeals.
Despite the ban on demonstrations until 31 July - imposed on the eve of the arrival of the head of the Kremlin - a hundred militants of the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda (Freedom) took to the streets against "Russian imperialism". Dozens were arrested. "We do not want Putin to drag Ukraine into another imperialist project like the Free Trade Union, and this is precisely the reason why he came to Kiev," said Andriy Illienko, a member of Svoboda.
Beyond the traditional controversies that accompany each visit of the Russian leadership - political or religious - to the former Soviet republic, the issue was discussed in meetings and events on the sidelines of the festivities. After years of tense relations with Ukraine, Putin aims to convince Kiev to give up the attempt to tighten its ties with the EU, instead joining the customs union between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan. A sort of common market of the former Soviet republics, that the Kremlin seeks to expand as much as possible. "There 'a tough competition in the global market and I'm sure many of you will realize that only by joining forces can we be competitive and win this tough fight," said the head of the Kremlin after talks with Yanukovych. To convince Kiev, Moscow has already hinted in the past that in the case of entry into the customs union, the price of Russian gas - for years the center of periodic crises between the two countries - would be slashed. So far, though, Kiev proved to be more interested in a free trade agreement and political association with the EU, a deal it hopes to sign in November.
For the Ukrainian political scientists, who have noticed the coldness of the meetings between the two leaders, Putin once again failed to persuade Yanukovych. As reported by the information website Gazeta.ru- citing a survey by Rating's group - only 40% of the population supports Kievìs joining the Free Trade Union and the percentage is steadily declining. The remainder is in favor of the integration with Europe. (N.A.)