Kuchma surprised many observers in the foreign policy area, taking positions favoring both Russia and the West. This course has increased Ukraine's freedom of action, allowing it to act more like an independent country and Kuchma more like a president. With regard to Russia, he has shown himself willing to cooperate and even to defer to Moscow on important issues. Ironically, this has not increased Russian influence in Kiev but rather the reverse because it has led Moscow to back off from some of its more threatening interventions, as Russia has no interest in destabilizing a regime that wishes to cooperate. Since Kuchma's 1994 election, Moscow has withdrawn much of its support for the Russian community in Crimea, has been more forthcoming about the Black Sea fleet, and has toned down its rhetoric about Ukrainian energy purchases. In 1997, the leaders of the two countries signed a 10-year friendship treaty and reached a settlement regarding the Black Sea fleet. The Russian Duma ratified the treaty in 1999. Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in March 2002 to strengthen their economic ties in order to boost post-Soviet economic influence in both the European and world markets.
Kuchma's approach to the West has been equally liberating. During his first presidential campaign, Kuchma said he would not press for ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This angered the West by calling into question the January 1994 tripartite agreement on the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine, and raised doubts about new aid from Western-dominated international agencies. After the election, however, Kuchma reversed himself, pushed through the ratification and has been rewarded with sizable international assistance. Moreover, his removal of the nuclear question that had hung over Ukraine's relationship with the West has led many countries, including the United States, to be more supportive of Ukrainian interests. The last Soviet-era ICBM nuclear missile silo in Ukraine was destroyed in October 2001. During Kuchma's first term in office, Ukraine was admitted to the Council of Europe, the Central European Initiative, and the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). It also signed a economic cooperation agreement with the European Union (EU), although it was not among the countries invited to begin negotiations for admission in1998. Kuchma does not believe the country will become a member of the EU during his presidency, but he does hope for the Ukraine to become an associate member before the end of his term. Germany has agreed to support the Ukraine on this bid.