The recent riots in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, reflect a
growing political instability that places both Ukraine's future and U.S.
interests in Eastern Europe at risk. Triggered by scandal — President Leonid
Kuchma is alleged to have been involved in the murder of an investigative
journalist — the crisis is aggravated by Ukraine's dismal economic
performance and its energy and financial dependence on Russia. As was seen
at the February Russian-Ukrainian summit in Dnipropetrovsk, this explosive
combination of issues is forcing Ukraine back into the Russian orbit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
is encouraging Kyiv to subject Ukraine's military, energy, manufacturing,
and military-industrial sectors to Russian economic and political hegemony
in exchange for more energy supplies and the restructuring of debts incurred
as a result of Ukraine's purchases of Russian natural gas. The implications
of this increased dependence could be serious for both Ukraine and the
United States. Re-absorption into a future Russian superstate could deny
Ukraine the option of European integration, destroy the post-Cold War status
quo in Europe, boost tensions in relations between Russia and NATO allies in
Europe, and worsen U.S.-Russian relations.
Ukraine and U.S. Interests in
Europe. An independent and democratic Ukraine is important to U.S.
policy in Eastern Europe. A robust Ukraine can help to deny Russia, which is
becoming more nationalist and authoritarian, direct access to the borders of
East Central Europe, including NATO members Hungary and Poland, as well as
Southeastern Europe and the Balkans. Ukraine also controls the strategic
northern coast of the Black Sea, which is adjacent to NATO ally Turkey.
An independent and democratic
Ukraine is also crucial to Russia's future. Reintegrating Ukraine, with its
50 million citizens, into a Russian superstate would contribute to the
emergence of a quasi-imperial and undemocratic Great Russia. Russian
empire-builders in the military and national security community have openly
proclaimed the need to establish hegemony in Ukraine in the context of the
zero-sum nature of Russian-American confrontation. Russia would like to deny
the U.S. and Western Europe political influence in the former Soviet Union.
For over 200 years, Ukraine and
the Crimea have been the base from which Russia has threatened the Turkish
Straits. From Ukraine, Russia launched the four partitions of Poland in the
18th and 20th centuries. Ukraine's integration into a Russian superstate
would quash all hopes for a Western-oriented, democratic Eastern Slavic
state and create new dividing lines in Europe. It would then be only a
matter of time until an enlarged Russia reverted to its historically
assertive pattern of behavior in the region.
The situation in Ukraine also
makes it essential to bolster the sovereignty of the New Independent States
(NIS), which have come under pressure from Moscow as a result of their
internal political and economic weakness, in addition to their dependence on
Russia for energy. Other importers of Russian energy in the region, such as
Georgia, are in a similar position.
U.S. Policy. To support
Ukraine's independence, territorial integrity, and democracy, as well as
economic reforms based on the rule of law and a sustainable pro-Western
orientation, the Bush Administration should:
presidential statement emphasizing Ukraine's strategic importance and
reaffirming the U.S. commitment to its independence, sovereignty,
democracy, rule of law, and pro-Western orientation. This would go a
long way toward deterring Russian intervention and bolstering
independence-oriented elements in Ukraine.
and reallocate U.S. aid in light of the current crisis. An emergency
review could be coordinated by the National Security Council and
conducted by the Department of State. Participants should include the
U.S. Embassy in Kyiv; the Departments of Defense, Treasury, and Energy;
and the intelligence community.
NATO's cooperation with the Ukrainian military, including Partnership
for Peace programs, which can help to encourage reformist and
pro-independence elements in the Ukrainian armed forces.
industrial cooperation with Ukraine, including in the aerospace sector,
and encourage America's Western European allies, especially Germany and
Great Britain, to do the same.
- Utilize the
National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican
Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and international
broadcasting agencies like Radio Liberty and the Voice of America to
encourage the participation of reformist, pro-democracy forces in the
For its part, Ukraine should
develop and implement a further set of reforms to achieve a growing and
efficient economy that will reduce its dependence on Russia. It should
develop business models, legislation, and regulations to stamp out
high-level government corruption and allow U.S. and other Western companies
to compete fairly and invest in energy and other industrial sectors of the
Working through impartial
privatization managers, such as leading accounting firms and major Western
management consulting firms, Ukraine should conduct open, transparent, and
impartial privatization of its large enterprises. The government should also
terminate subsidies to industrial enterprises through government-supported
cheap energy supplies — a change in policy that would end the cycle of
energy-related indebtness to Russia.
fate hinges upon energy independence, debt management, economic efficiency,
and private-sector transparency. In addition, Ukraine will be a decisive
factor in determining whether Russia expands its sphere of influence to
establish regional hegemony over its neighbors in the 21st century. Also at
stake is the security of U.S. NATO allies, such as Poland and Turkey. The
Bush Administration must move quickly and decisively to manage this
challenging and complex question.
— Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies in
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.