Ukrainian president willing to step down



KIEV, Ukraine (AP)—Under fire for a ships-for-energy barter with Russia, President Leonid Kravchuk agreed Wednesday to face a nationwide vote of confidence and step down if he loses, lawmakers said.

The president took the position during a closed-door meeting with members of Ukraine’s parliament, a bastion of opposition that has demanded a tougher line in relations with Russia and the West.

Criticism came to a head after Kravchuk agreed with President Boris Yeltsin last Friday to hand over Ukraine’s former Soviet warheads and Black Sea Fleet ships in exchange for Russian debt relief and nuclear fuel for Ukraine’s power plants.

Russia and the West cheered the agreement, but Kravchuk was accused of he betrayal. The largest opposition party, Rukh, called him the ‘‘guarantor of the loss of Ukraine’s independence.’‘

Kravchuk denied he had given away Ukraine’s ships and weapons, saying the agreement was the only way to guarantee independence because the nation’s dire economy did not allow the luxury of another political battle with Russia.

The president’s comments Wednesday indicated he was trying to force his supporters back to his side with a resignation threat.

One participant, Dmytro Pavlychko, chairman of parliament’s foreign relations committee, said Kravchuk was searching for a way out.

‘‘President Kravchuk is deeply hurt by accusations that he is a traitor, that he has sold Ukraine out,’‘ Pavlychko told reporters. ‘‘He feels that he is partly to blame.’‘

Kravchuk agreed to a suggestion by legislators representing a pro-democratic parliamentary faction to hold a nationwide vote of confidence and resign if he loses, participants said. He also agreed to consider resignation of the Cabinet and early parliamentary elections.

The legislators said the referendum could be held in the spring. A final decision must be made by the 450-member parliament.