Friday, October 08, 2010

A Guidebook on Post Orange Ukraine for Americans and Europeans

Since the collapse of the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has fallen into somewhat a tributary state of Russia. A recent report published by Chatham House shows some clues to understand Ukrainian politics and security in the Black Sea region (“The Mortgaging of Ukraine’s Independence”; Chatham House Briefing Paper; August 2010). I would like to review this essay.

In this report, James Sherr, Head of Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, presents an overview of post Soviet Ukrainian politics, and analyzes the Russo-Western geopolitical power game. Despite the hope of democracy, the Orange regime disappointed Ukrainian people because “Ukrainian society appears to have returned to the post-Soviet pattern of cynicism, apathy, distrust of others and loss of interest in anything unrelated to family and self.” However, Sherr says that the Polish-Lithuanian and Hapsburg traditions deters Russian-styled power rule in Ukraine. This is an important point to understand why Ukraine wanders between Europe and Russia.

The most important issue of this paper is the Kharkiv Accord with Russia on April 21 this year. Sherr says that President Viktor Yanukovych has committed a fatal error to sign this accord. Ukraine was offered a generous deal such as a 30% discount for gas import, in return of extending Russian military presence in its territory. In an interview with a Ukrainian newspaper, Amanda Paul, Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre in Belgium, commented that the Kharkiv Accord would not damage EU-Ukrainian relations because this deal was expected. She says that the accord will not deter Ukraine’s aspiration for EU membership, but it is Kremlin’s stamp to keep Ukraine in the Russian sphere of influence (“Expert: Kharkiv accords between Medvedev, Yanukovych 'Moscow's stamp' for Kyiv”; Kyiv Post; April 22, 2010).

As Ukrainian people experienced the worst economic crisis since its independence during the gas conflict, they are preoccupied with the economy at the expense of national security. As a result, Ukraine was forced to take economic policies dependent on Russia. Once Ukraine cancels the deal, it must repay received discount. Also, Kremlin and Gazprom strengthened their leverage on Ukrainian economic policy. Sherr points out that though Yanukovych tried to decrease Russia’s ambitions through pre-emptive concessions, it has made Ukraine under de facto control of Russia.

This has significant implications for the Russo-Western geopolitics. Like the first president Leonid Kuchuma, Viktor Yanukovych explores to join the EU, while deepening friendship with Russia. However, the security environment has changed. In the Kuchuma era, the Euro Atlantic framework nurtured good relations between Yeltin’s Russia and the West. Today, Russia has moved back to Czarist nationalism. Also, 9/11 attacks and the peaceful rise of China have changed global security structure. In such a dangerous world, Yanukovych has deepened partnership with Russia, without counterweight to guarantee Ukrainian national interest, while Kuchuma explored NATO membership. Sherr mentions a critical point that Yanukovych does not understand fundamental difference in geopolitics in the 1990s and present days.

In view of Ukraine’s dangerous dependence on Russia, how should the West do? When Yanukovych was inaugurated to new president, America and Europe accepted him a pragmatic centrist. However, poor governance under the Yanukovych administration has ruined democracy in this country although the election was free of fraud. This is a grave damage to security in the Black Sea area. Sherr insists that the EU must present credible membership prospects encourage Ukrainian efforts for democracy. Also, he insists that the Obama administration act beyond saying that the United States will not sacrifice neighboring countries to reset relations with Russia. Sherr criticizes the speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Kyiv on July 3, because she simply said that the United States did not regard the Russo-Ukrainian friendship as anti-American, without defining US and Western interests in this region.

James Sherr argues a vital point. President Barack Obama is preoccupied with resetting relations with Russia, and his post-American behavior raises concerns among nations from Poland to Caucasus. Also, European leaders are too post modern to balk Russian expansionism. But things are making some progress. At the Yalta European Strategy Conference this October, Štefan Füle (Czech), European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, said that the forthcoming EU-Ukraine Association Agreement would improve political governance and economic transparency in Ukraine (“Ukraine and the World: Rethinking and Moving on”; Europa; 1 October 2010 As to the agreement, see “Ukraine close to finalizing Association Agreement with EU – Yanukovych”; RIA Novosti; 6 October 2010). Remember, James Sherr says “Even in the unlikely event that Russia’s more ambitious schemes of integration succeed, Ukraine will remain a sovereign state, and it must be treated as one“, in this paper.