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What Should US Policy Be Towards Ukraine?

US-Ukraine Energy Dialogue IV:
Aiming for an Energy Self Sufficient Ukraine by 2030

What Should US Policy Be Towards Ukraine?

Stephen Blank

Keynote presentation by US Army War College Professor Stephen Blank, delivered at "US-Ukraine Energy Dialogue IV", American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, Kyiv, December 11, 2012.

Draft: not for citation or quotation without consent of the author. The views expressed here do not represent those of the US Army, Defense Department, or the US Government


New administrations or presidential terms often provide opportunities for new policies or at least for rethinking existing ones. Ideally this should also be true for US policy towards Ukraine. But without fundamental changes on both sides, new thinking about Ukraine will not take place. And while a failure to rethink both US and Ukrainian policies and implement new ones injures both parties’ interests; the climate for new thinking and policies at this time is clearly inauspicious. Analysts talk openly about a mutual indifference to one another that bodes ill for all concerned.

Similarly both sides suffer from delusions. Ukraine wrongly believes that its intrinsic geopolitical importance will persuade Washington to support it regardless of its policies. Kyiv apparently also inclines to the belief that it can discount US rhetoric on democratization in the belief that this is merely a public position, not the true private posture of US leaders, and that there are divisions within the US government upon which it can play to ensure continuation of the status quo. Meanwhile for its part, the US continues to emphasize engagement with Russia to solve global issues over the urgency of getting European and Eurasian issues right and having a policy towards the post-Soviet states that is truly strategic rather than an afterthought of relations with Russia. Moreover, despite Ukraine’s contentious relations with Russia, it is not doing much to win the EU to its side. Instead, states like Poland, who clearly understand what is at stake in Ukraine, must constantly pressure the EU to maintain a significant level of engagement and activity with Ukraine. But Ukraine’s own actions constantly frustrate such initiatives.

Consequently there thus exists a fundamental gap between what America and/or the European Union should do regarding Ukraine and what they probably will do. Unfortunately there also is probably just as big a gap if not a greater gap between what Ukraine should do, especially if it wants Western and particularly American economic and political support, and what it almost certainly will do. To judge from recent policy, without a major shock Ukraine will not do enough to galvanize the response that America or the EU should make and that it craves. Indeed, Ukraine’s actions to date cannot stimulate either entity to do anything more than is already the case. And now the costs of Ukraine’s regression form democracy are already visible. As The Economist just observed, “As a result of Ukrainian authorities’ heavy-handed approach, the EU has now frozen ties. Investor confidence has shriveled.” Moreover, Ukraine now faces a recession and a widening budget deficit, and is unlikely to experience any growth of the economy in 2012 and should not expect to do much better in 2013. Its government has now resigned en masse and it has duly appealed to the IMF for a fresh multibillion dollar loan.

At the same time conditions in the US and more broadly the West undoubtedly contribute to that gap between what the EU and the US should do and will probably do. For example, the recent US presidential campaign said virtually nothing about Europe or Ukraine, and the occasional mentioning of Russia represented caricatures of policy, not rational analysis. Nevertheless the primary cause for the continuing failure of Western policy to achieve positive results in Ukraine is what the Ukrainian government has done and not done. The visible fatigue, skepticism, and frustration that one finds in both Europe and Washington when Ukraine is mentioned owes much to Ukraine’s emulation of a Putinist structure of state criminality and authoritarian repression as well as the failure of governments since 2004 to realize the promise of the Orange Revolution.

Thus the biggest gap between reality and perception lies in Ukraine. A recent Ukrainian article argued that Ukraine’s presidential administration has decided to emphasize Kyiv’s relationship with the US by focusing on energy development and the recent tender to Chevron to explore for and develop shale gas. Kyiv evidently believes that “Washington would somehow ignore the decline of democratic values in Ukraine.” Sadly nothing could be farther from the truth and this argument shows how completely disconnected from American realities is the government in Kyiv. Neither should the Yanukovych regime assume that America’s interests lie in keeping Ukraine out of the clutches of Russia. Rather what Washington most fears is that Ukraine will regress to its own worst impulses and, continue to emulate a Putinist style of government as is increasingly the case. In fact, the oft-repeated US line that it does not see or conduct a policy of geopolitical rivalries in the CIS against Russia accurately expresses the Administration’s policy. Washington’s main concern regarding Ukraine is not geopolitical as government leaders seem to believe, rather it is democratization and liberalization. Therefore there is steadily diminishing tolerance for the Ukrainian government’s antics and, as noted below, increasing calls for sanctions against it due to its anti-democratic policies.

This Ukrainian exercise in collective wishful or delusional thinking overlooks Washington’s and Brussels’ visible unhappiness about the Yanukovych regime’s backsliding from democracy. Consequently there is little US interest in Ukraine, as the US election showed, or in meeting with Yanukovych. And when such meetings with high-ranking officials occur President Obama and his officials invariably raise the issue of Yulia Tymoshenko’s incarceration for purely political reasons and the general trend away form democracy despite Kyiv’s counter-arguments. Neither are the Chevron or Royal Dutch Shell tenders for the exploration of shale gas anywhere near a genuine contract for such exploration and they might yet turn out to be merely the latest in a series of moves by Ukraine promising to overcome the barriers to such investments that have not been kept. Indeed, Ukraine has a long track record of broken promises with both Western and Russian investors and suppliers. And the barriers to foreign investment remain intact.

Until Ukraine does what it should do, namely create conditions that facilitate what the US and Europe should do – invest in Ukrainian reform, support democracy, open up the energy sector to transparent behavior that encourages foreign investment, and move to integrate Ukraine in European security structures of all kinds -- it will be lucky if the West shows any initiative at all towards Ukraine. This also means that Ukraine must take its impending chairmanship of the OSCE seriously with regard to upholding the democratic Azquis of the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent Pan-European documents. Unless Ukraine moves away from its current anti-democratic trend and willingness to abet similar processes, e.g., the abduction of foreign dissidents, it will not only forfeit its opportunity to enhance its reputation through the OSCE, it could also lead the West to write it off completely as a viable partner after 2013. This is not an idle warning and the full seriousness of this threat must be understood.

Consequently Ukraine’s failure to overcome the pathologies, not too strong a word, of its current economic and political development can only increase the torpor in which EU and US relations with Ukraine are now immured. Kyiv’s failure to enact a reform agenda consigns Ukraine to economic-political backwardness and underdevelopment along with a certain detachment or isolation from the West, including the rest of Europe. This failure continues to keep Ukraine a weak state that is steadily becoming relatively weaker compared with its neighbors and interlocutors. Accordingly this failure to move towards democracy and freer markets, including more efficient and transparent energy economics, ensures that Ukraine will remain permanently at risk of having both its effective and nominal sovereignty and territorial integrity reduced due to unrelenting Russian pressure and growing Western apathy. Therefore much of the burden for stimulating a desirable change in US policy paradoxically rests upon Kyiv, not Washington. Another way of saying this is that Ukraine’s future relationship with the US and Europe largely rests in its own hands.

Admittedly this is a harsh indictment of Ukrainian policy. But unfortunately it is founded on the facts and the visible lack of vital policy interest in Washington in Ukraine and for that matter Eastern Europe that characterized President Obama’s first term and will likely continue to characterize the ongoing reset policy. Indeed, if Ukraine wants the US and Europe to conduct what should be the optimal policy for them, namely support for a wide range of policies that integrate Ukraine more firmly with Europe on a democratic basis even if they do not bring about membership either in NATO or the EU, it must demonstrate to them in word and deed that it is prepared to initiate policies that will stimulate a corresponding Western interest to undertake those major policy initiatives towards Ukraine.

The Russian Threat

To understand what the US and Europe should do and probably the different steps that they will probably ultimately do we must envisage Ukraine in its strategic context i.e. Europe and Eurasia. Ideally Washington should devote itself to fashioning a broad economic-political initiative to rescue European economies and the EU (and thus NATO) from the present crisis. Ukraine is essential to that project. It has become a cliché to say that without Ukraine Russia is merely a great power but with it an empire. But the strategic issues at stake in Ukraine are considerably broader than that. The development of Ukraine’s true and lasting sovereignty and security, as well as the preservation of its formal and actual territorial integrity -- presumably the objectives of any Ukrainian government -- are crucial to the stability of the post Cold War settlement and European security. Nevertheless Ukraine’s policies are leading Western governments to reject the geopolitical argument since it is so difficult to work with Ukraine and because democracy increasingly counts for more than geopolitics, a fact that is apparently lost on the Ukrainian government.

If Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and/or integrity are curtailed than peace in Europe is imperiled. And it already is true that all of those attributes of Ukrainian independence and integrity are at risk. Therefore to assess what should, and even what must be done by Washington, Brussels, and Kyiv, we must first realize the stakes involved and they go far beyond the question of Ukraine’s security. Ukraine’s security, sovereignty and territorial integrity are at risk today from two distinct but interrelated forces. One of those forces comprises the deformities of Ukraine’s political structures, institutions, practices, and policies. And the second force is the Russian threat to its independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Regarding the pathologies of Ukraine’s political and institutional development one need only study the many reports published by the Razumkov Center in Kyiv to get a firm grasp of how Ukraine’s political structures, institutions and practices inhibit the development of a truly prosperous, secure, and democratic Ukraine. These structural deformities, and this is not by accident, also preclude the construction of an effective national security system or policy process for Ukraine. Neither is the Razumkov center alone in pointing out these problems. Foreign analysts regularly do so as well.

Indeed, to the extent that Ukraine remains a stunted and endangered democracy and what foreign analysts like Moises Naim call a criminalized state, it cannot fulfill its own responsibilities for ensuring its security. It is precisely these multiple weaknesses in politics and economics, not least the massive corruption that characterizes Ukraine’s energy sector, that keep Ukraine a weak state that is continually vulnerable to Russian pressure. Democratization leading to genuine democracy, free markets, and genuine integration into Europe, at least in the EU, if not NATO, would ensure Ukraine’s integrity and security against Russia’s continuing threats. While the ersatz or psuedo-Putinism the Yanukovych regime is trying to implement may temporarily preserve it in power, democracy and free markets are the surest and most enduring guarantee of Ukraine’s sovereignty, integrity, prosperity, and security. The Yanukovych government’s Putinist project, on the other hand, represents the surest guarantee of Ukraine’s enduring vulnerability to Russian pressure because it extends, perpetuates, and deepens those pathologies in economics and politics that inhibit Ukraine from achieving a true capacity for effective self-government. Worse yet, it ensures that there will ultimately be a major crisis of the system as in 2004. In short, despite its leaders’ intentions this system is a recipe for Ukraine’s inherent weakness and instability.

Meanwhile and crucially Moscow has repeatedly made it abundantly clear in word and deed that it neither accepts the actual sovereignty and integrity of any of the states created after 1989 in Eastern Europe nor the integrity and sovereignty of post-Soviet republics that became independent after 1991 like Ukraine. Presidents Medvedev’s, Putin’s, and countless other official remarks and actions indicate this as does Putin’s August 2012 admission that the 2008 war in Georgia was a preplanned war of aggression to dismember Georgia, using Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatists for this purpose. Putin’s and Medvedev’s public statements about Ukraine in 2008 and 2009 as well as ongoing Russian efforts to engineer a covert and creeping takeover of the Crimea confirm that this revisionism is Russian policy even as it maintains embassies and formal recognition of all these states to derive maximum benefits from that formal recognition while simultaneously seeking to subvert these states.

Similarly in 2008 at the NATO Bucharest summit President Putin told President Bush, “But George don’t you understand that Ukraine is not a state.” Putin further claimed that most of its territory was a Russian gift in the 1950s. Moreover, while Western Ukraine belonged to Eastern Europe, Eastern Ukraine was “ours”. Furthermore, if Ukraine did enter NATO, Russia would then dismember Ukraine and graft its parts onto Russia. Thus Ukraine would cease to exist as a state. Putin also threatened Ukraine with being a Russian nuclear target should it join NATO or host elements of US missile defenses. Putin further said that Russia regards NATO enlargement as a threat so if Georgia received membership, Moscow would “take adequate measures” and recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia to create a buffer between NATO and Russia. Subsequent events, as we know, confirmed Putin’s warnings regarding Georgia so we should not assume he did not means what he said about Ukraine. And other sources confirm his disdain for President Yanukovych and the Russian government’s desire that Ukraine should be seen as operating a kind of Russian “regency.”

On August 11, 2009 Medvedev published an open letter, ostensibly to President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, but actually to the whole country, lambasting Ukraine’s policies as anti-Russian, announcing that he would withhold sending Ukraine a new ambassador, and calling upon the Ukrainian people to elect a new pro-Russian president. This extraordinarily insulting letter‘s publication, not to mention its writing, represented overt gestures of contempt towards Ukraine’s sovereignty and Yushchenko personally. Its authorship and, a fortiori, its publication, fully displayed to the world that Medvedev shares Putin’s assessment of Ukraine’s sovereignty and for that matter the sovereignty of the other CIS governments. It makes clear that what angers Russia is the idea that Ukraine might actually behave like an independent sovereign state and demand that Russia not meddle in its politics and elections, uphold the 1997 treaty on the Black Sea Fleet, desist from trying to take over Ukraine’s energy economy and wage energy wars against it, and come to terms with the Soviet (not just Stalinist) legacy.

In late 2006 Putin offered Ukraine unsolicited security guarantees in return for permanently stationing the Black Sea Fleet on its territory, a superfluous but ominous gesture since Russia had already assured Ukraine’s security through the Tashkent treaty of 1992 and the Tripartite agreement with Ukraine and America to denuclearize Ukraine in 1994. Putin’s offer also coincided with his typically “dialectical” approach to Ukraine’s sovereignty in the Crimea where he stated that, “The Crimea forms part of the Ukrainian side and we cannot interfere in another country’s internal affairs. At the same time, however, Russia cannot be indifferent to what happens in the Ukraine and Crimea.”

Putin thus hinted that Ukrainian resistance to Russian limits on its freedom of action might encounter a Russian backed “Kosovo-like” scenario of a nationalist uprising in the Crimea to which Russia could not remain indifferent. And Moscow certainly possesses the means to subvert Kyiv’s authority in the Crimea.

We see similar policies in Moldova, Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia, Georgia, and throughout the entire former “Soviet bloc” and Soviet Union. Thus we see a determined revisionist assault on Ukraine and the entire post Cold War settlement in Europe and the former Soviet Union. If Ukraine, through its internal weaknesses, were to succumb to this pressure all of the other post-Soviet states as well as all of Central and Eastern Europe would instantly become much more vulnerable to Russian pressure and threats directed towards diminishing their sovereignty, independence, and/or territorial integrity. Thus Ukraine, as Sherman Garnett observed, is the keystone in the arch of Eurasian and European security.

Russia has orchestrated systematic and unrelenting pressures across the spectrum of Ukrainian politics to undermine Ukraine’s de facto independence, sovereignty, and independence. Prominent Russian commentators like Konstantin Zatulin argue that Crimea has never felt itself part of Ukraine and outline a program for re-attaching it to Russia, while prominent Russian politicians like Deputy Prime Minsiter Dmitry Rogozin advocate the reunification of all Russians. Moscow has threatened missile strikes, insisted on deploying its Navy in Ukrainian territory and carving out a Russian zone in Crimea. On a daily basis it persistently seeks to corrupt key Ukrainian business and political elites, subvert the government through linkages with organized crime and intelligence penetration of political institutions, and subordinate Ukraine’s economy to its own by trying to compel it to join the Eurasian Union and take over its gas lines, production, and distribution. The South Stream gas pipeline project that has just began construction is a wholly political project that makes no economic sense and is exorbitantly costly. Indeed, to make it work Gazprom has had to run up huge debts to its partner ENI. Nevertheless Moscow has to begin constructing it to preempt any alternative pipeline scheme from materializing.

South Stream’s main purpose is isolating Ukraine from influence over Russian gas transmission thereby ensuring its ensuing total and exclusive dependence on Russia for gas. It is part of a larger Russian grand design whose optimal outcome is forcing erstwhile transit states for Russian gas: Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine to depend exclusively on Russian supplies and prices for gas, thus forcing them to cede much of their political authority to Moscow. South Stream would also isolate Ukraine from European customers and businesses whose dependence upon Russian contracts would then grow steadily. Although Ukraine has begun to explore for reported large shale or unconventional gas holdings, give tenders to foreign and US forms like Chevron and Shell to conduct such explorations, reduce Russian gas imports, and pursue other sources of oil and gas from Azerbaijan and Central Asia if not farther afield; contracts take years to negotiate, pipelines take longer to build, and no deals are even remotely in sight. Therefore Ukraine will remain dependent on Russia until it can develop those other sources of energy. In other words, Kyiv has no time to lose.

At the same time the South Stream project’s other goals are equally destructive to Eurasian and European security. The other objectives of this project comprise perpetuating Central Asian suppliers’ exclusive dependence upon Russian pipelines for the sale of their gas to Europe, preempting Nabucco, or any projected Trans-Caspian gas pipeline that would free Caspian producers from this dependence on Russian pipelines, confirming the dependence of many European countries, particularly in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, upon exclusively Russian supplies with onerous long-term fixed prices and take or pay contracts, and using those energy assets and the revenues accruing to Moscow thereby to buy influence and subvert the political institutions of all these states from the Balkans to Central Asia, including Ukraine. Moreover, the revenues accruing to Russia from energy sales serve as the principal lubricant of the financial corruption that pervades bilateral economic and political relationships. Thus we see a systematic and unceasing effort to undermine the bases of Ukrainian power, independence, integrity, and democracy.

Neither are these pressures restricted to energy policy. Moscow has threatened Kyiv that if Ukraine were to join NATO this would lead to a cutoff in defense cooperation which is very important to Ukraine’s defense industry and that it would even threaten to attack Ukraine with nuclear missiles. And Moscow has in the past dispatched many of its leading “political technologists” to Ukraine to influence if not direct internal and domestic political processes and parties in order to elect pro-Moscow candidates and further corrupt Ukrainian politics.

At present Moscow relentlessly campaigns to gain complete control of Ukraine’s pipelines and gas distribution network and prevent Ukraine and the EU from cooperating to modernize those networks. These are not short-term political operations or policies but rather manifestations of a systematic, unyielding pressure upon Ukraine. Thus Moscow is pressing Kyiv to join a partnership between the two state gas companies, Gazprom and Naftohaz Ukrainy, to take over Ukraine’s gas distribution and production networks. To entice Ukraine, Russia seeks to induce it and will soon coerce it if the answer is not positive, to join the Eurasian Customs Union, (EURASEC) the cornerstone of Putin’s grand design for reintegrating the former Soviet Union around Russia. If Ukraine refuses to join EURASEC, a move that terminates Ukraine’s economic independence, prevents membership in the EU, and restores Ukraine’s economic subservience to Russia, then Moscow will, as Putin has already ordered, accelerate construction of the South Stream gas pipeline through the Black Sea into the Balkans and then on to Eastern and Central Europe. The totality of these policies and threats from Russia against Ukraine hardly demonstrates the centuries old friendship and mutual respect of Russia for Ukraine; quite the opposite. Indeed, they bear out James Sherr’s observation that for the Russian elite it is an article of faith that samostoyatel’naya Ukraina nikogda ne budet, (a self-standing Ukraine will never occur).

In fact Russia has legislated grounds for military intervention in the CIS that strikingly resemble Hitler and Stalin’s pretexts for revising Europe’s map in the 1930s. Russian defense legislation clearly permit the president to wage a war on behalf of Russian citizens abroad whose “honor” and “dignity” have been violated. Not only would this law provide a “legal” basis for the offensive projection of Russian military force beyond Russia’s borders and thus justify the war of 2008 and any subsequent attack against Georgia, it also provides a basis for justifying the offensive use of Russian force against every state from the Baltic to Central Asia on the selfsame basis of supposedly defending the “honor and dignity” of Russian citizens and culture from discrimination and attack. This should not surprise us. After all, in the wake of the Russo-Georgian war Medvedev announced that henceforth he would base his foreign policy on five principles. Among them are principles that give Russia a license for intervening in other states where the Russian minority’s “interests and dignity” are allegedly at risk. Medvedev also asserted that Russia has privileged interests with countries which he would not define, demonstrating that Russia not only wants to revise borders or intervene in other countries, it also demands a sphere of influence in Eurasia as a whole.

Not only did this law pass but on December 16, 2009 the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s Parliament meekly gave Medvedev (and implicitly his successors) sole and full authority to decide how, whether, and when Russia’s forces could be used beyond its borders. This law has several other potentially dangerous consequences for all of Eastern Europe besides those listed above. In many respects the language of this new law contradicts international law, the Helsinki final Act, and the UN’s language pertaining to relevant situations. Beyond that, the law expands the range of circumstances and pretexts by which Russian external military intervention could be carried out. Neither does it specify what constitutes the basis for defense of Russians abroad, leaving that decision strictly to Russian authorities.

Third, this law radically alters the security situation in the CIS and the Baltic because it gives Russia a legal platform for justifying its unilateral intervention into any of those states’ territory that is not provided for in the founding documents of existing treaty organizations in the CIS and thus undermines their validity and with it the protection of those other states’ sovereignty and integrity. Fourth, this law directly contradicts the language of the draft treaty on European security submitted by Medvedev to European governments on November 29, 2009. Finally this law may also shed some light on Moscow’s thinking about future power projection scenarios beyond its borders, e.g. incitement in the Crimea or the Baltic disturbances of 2007 or the pretexts for launching war on Georgia after 2006.

Russian efforts to subvert European government through “asymmetric” means, the linkage of energy, organized crime, intelligence penetration, political subversion and, military threats, specifically recurring nuclear and missile threats against all of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea states, are constant and unremitting. Given Russia’s public admission of planning a war of aggression against Georgia and its continuing addiction to aggressive actions in its neighborhood, complacency about European contingencies in the future is clearly unwarranted. Clearly we cannot take European security for granted. Such concerns must engage the strategic planner, especially one who is looking to events a decade or more from now.

An Ideal US Agenda for Europe and Ukraine

Under the circumstances what should Washington do? Bearing in mind Ukraine’s importance for European as well as CIS security, the US (and European) response should ideally be a multi-dimensional one that includes economic, political, and military means. But that approach must take its point of departure from the practical envisioning of Ukraine as a central element in European and Eurasian security and therefore strengthening it and its capacity to play a truly independent role in those arenas. And that program of action towards those objectives should be multi-dimensional to strengthen Ukraine’s capacity for self-rule across many issues or challenges.

While Ukraine will not join NATO anytime soon (for many reasons, not all of which are connected with the West) a rapprochement with NATO admirably serves Ukraine’s interests. This was the case during the Kuchma presidency and is likely to reoccur if Ukraine effects a similar rapprochement with NATO. That would also moderate if not deter Moscow’s subversive activities in the Crimea. Moreover such a move would increase Ukraine’s defense capabilities and its ability to formulate and implement a coherent overall national security policy and program of activities for its armed forces.

If Ukraine showed a genuine desire to join NATO or even to draw closer to it then this would probably lead NATO to encourage Ukraine to follow the required steps towards that goal as outlined in previous NATO documents for aspirant members. Although that is not currently necessary and there is no political basis for doing so; this policy approach does mean taking military as well as political-economic steps to support Ukraine’s independence and foster its integration with Europe, a process that is the most reliable, and in fact, the only way to guarantee that independence, integrity, and security, as well as to create the basis for meaningful prosperity.

Military Measures

Here we must remember that the US and Russia, by virtue of the tripartite treaty of 1994 with Ukraine, essentially ensure Ukraine’s security and integrity. Therefore Washington cannot and should not remain oblivious to potential threats to that security and integrity. In a time of peace with no threat on the horizon, even if defense budgets everywhere are under pressure, there are ways to implement meaningful defense cooperation with Ukraine in keeping with US interests and commitments. In a time of fiscal austerity, peace, and supposedly diminished military threats in Europe a primary activity of the US armed forces with partner states is the entire range of activities and exercises that come under the rubric of security cooperation. These activities comprise, inter alia, training, advisory missions, joint exercises among all services, officers’ courses, and arms sales. They are mutually beneficial, normally highly cost-effective – an important selling point at a time of fiscal austerity and budgetary constraint, and they facilitate lasting mutual contacts and ultimately a considerable degree of inter-operability among militaries should that become necessary.

In Ukraine’s case, along with other East European and post-Soviet militaries such activities would also aid materially in inculcating NATO-like standards of democratic civil-military relations in Ukraine’s military and civilian defense leadership as well as enhanced military proficiency. Indeed, US strategic doctrine, e.g. the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, openly states that “U.S. Forces --- will continue to treat the building of partners’ security capacity as an increasingly important mission.” Obviously such activities also materially assist host armed forces in coping with the plethora of threats that they may face depending on where they are located. As a result of the benefits that could accrue to both sides from such a pattern of activities, and not only in Europe, a substantial literature has grown up in the US articulating the benefits of an emphasis on security cooperation during peacetime for the US and its partners in deterring future threats.

Given the high degree of threats around Russia’s peripheries that include but go beyond Russia’s own threats to the states in question an enhanced investment by all branches of the US military in security cooperation is not only fiscally necessary in a time of austerity, it is strategically necessary and not only around Russia’s borders. Indeed, if we could enhance US strategic cooperation with Moscow and Russian forces it would be mutually beneficial. In that context US military strategy now accepts Russia as a potential partner in East Asia and earlier in 2012 conducted the annual RIMPAC exercises with those forces But the larger strategic point is that the US’ armed forces, at least in peacetime, employ security cooperation as a means to both deter potential adversaries from striking at US partners and to forestall war. Therefore this course of action makes eminent sense for the US and Ukraine as they each struggle to rethink their strategy and confront the challenges of austerity in a fast-paced and uncertain threat environment.

At the same time this program should ideally not be merely a self-standing defense program but should be part of a comprehensive multi-dimensional defense and broadly conceived security program vis-a-vis Ukraine that engages with as many aspects of security as Ukraine wants to emphasize. Neither are the benefits of such a program purely operational. It would be highly desirable for the US to also work with Ukraine to raise Ukraine’s defense industrial sector’s capacity to compete on a European rather than a Russian standard in producing weapons for self-defense and even in its arms sales abroad. This kind of program would have many other benefits for Ukraine’s defense sector.

In emancipating itself from this connection to Russia and approaching European standards Ukraine would be able to produce weapons to that standard. Then it could escape being tied to a Russian defense sector that repeatedly cannot produce quality weapons for its own military let alone truly compete on a global basis. Second, such interaction would greatly increase the transparency of this sector in Ukraine and reduce its need for or desire to sell weapons clandestinely to places like Iraq and Africa, deals that embroil it with Russia who wants to do so itself and with NATO members for adding to the challenges to their security interests. Moreover, by disentangling itself from this large area of corrupt relations with Russia, Ukraine would gain greater freedom of maneuver in regard to Russia and greater status on world arms markets so it would probably not lose much money, if any, by such a move. Therefore it would probably be very much to Washington’s and Kyiv’s mutual benefit in the US could devise and implement such a program of cooperation with Ukraine’s defense industrial sector.

However, until and unless Ukraine solicits such assistance and/or take comprehensive steps to repair the incoherent defense and policy process within its government neither NATO nor Washington, and especially under conditions of fiscal stringency, will substantially upgrade the existing level of military cooperation to realize the full potential of what we have discussed here. And it should be remembered that we are not talking about a course of action designed to move Ukraine into NATO membership. Rather these programs could help Ukraine to enhance its own self-governing capability to defend itself and compete as a fully sovereign actor in international defense realms. While undoubtedly Moscow would not like such programs and outcomes, there is little it could profitably do to a strengthened Ukraine that could deflect it from this trajectory. To the extent that Ukraine strengthens its own sovereignty by means of time-tested and proven methods of interaction with the West it becomes proportionately stronger and less vulnerable to Russian pressures whether in defense or economics. This is another reason why the opportunity to elicit the maximum desired response form the West consonant with Ukraine’s current objective lies mainly in Kyiv’s, not Washington’s hands. To the extent that Ukraine renounces these opportunities it will continue to remain a state in stagnation and decline and correspondingly vulnerable to attacks on its sovereignty. Therefore if it wants either NATO or Washington to support it the fullest degree possible it has to show itself receptive to such opportunities and work to grasp them.

Political and Economic Cooperation

The same considerations hold true in political and economic affairs. Political and economic cooperation are equally important factors in an overall US and Western strategy towards Ukraine. Indeed, military cooperation without those forms of partnership with Ukraine would produce only limited results and in the absence of a shared political vision defense cooperation cannot amount to much. And, as should be the case in the military sphere where security cooperation should be as wide-ranging as possible on the basis of the host state’s request for it, so too the scope of this economic-political cooperation should be as wide and possible. But on some issues, namely human rights and the need for political reform, it is clear that Ukraine will not be happy about US or western position and vice versa..

Nevertheless neither the EU nor the US have any choice if they are to uphold consistently the policies and values for which they publicly stand. Indeed, Ukraine’s backsliding from democracy, repudiation of the constitution, farcical and falsified elections, criminalization of political opposition, incarceration of political opponents; support for foreign despots, attempts to emasculate the media and judiciary, as well as the Duma have generated a situation that, as former US ambassador Steven Pifer has observed, there is a general vision abroad that Ukraine is no longer a democratic country. Indeed, Pifer warned that should Ukraine’s regression away from democracy to something like Putinism continue the US will impose sanctions on Ukraine notwithstanding its efforts to draw closer to Washington. Even more strikingly, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton joined with the EU’s Foreign Affairs Commissioner, Lady Catherine Ashton to criticize Ukraine in a public newspaper article for its democratic deficits. The very placement of sanctions on the table registers the depth to which Ukraine’s standing has fallen in Washington. Indeed, Pifer advocates that both the US government and the EU minimize high-level contacts with the Yanukovych regime so it is not inconceivable that if this backsliding continues Congress might legislate something analogous to the Magnitsky law barring Russian officials involved with the death of Sergei Magnitsky and the looting of the company he represented from traveling to the US and placing their assets at risk of being frozen.

Pifer also warned that Ukraine’s elites should not delude themselves into thinking that Ukraine’s alleged geopolitical weight is so great that it can induce the West ot have productive relations with it regardless of these trends. Although some governments and official statements have previously inclined to that view Western opposition to Yanukovych’s regressions from democracy are mounting and telling. Moreover, they add to Ukraine’s isolation and vulnerability to Russian pressure. In Pifer’s words we are watching a slow-motion train wreck. Specifically, Yanukovych’s professed foreign policy of balancing Ukraine’s relations with the West and Russia appears to be in shambles. The EU has frozen signature of the association agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). Yanukovych had to cancel his planned Central European summit in Yalta because most of the invitees declined to attend, and NATO leaders in Chicago displayed little desire for bilateral meetings with him. Meanwhile Moscow rejects Ukraine’s demand for lower gas prices unless Ukraine surrenders control of its domestic gas transport and distribution network to Russia and joins the Eurasian Union, negating any possibility of an EU trade agreement.

Thus the Yanukovych regime’s calculation in March-May 2010 that if it made an agreement with Russia on existing issues such the Black Sea Fleet, gas prices, language, etc. Russia would desist from further pressure turns out to be a woeful miscalculation. Within months disillusionment had set in as Moscow merely (and predictably) profited these concessions and maintained its pressure on gas prices, building South Stream, etc. As a result relations with both Moscow and the West have worsened and Ukraine has little or nothing to show for its troubles. Yet it persists in its delusions. Thus here too if Kyiv wants to elicit from Washington the attention and investment of both material and political resources that it needs and claims to want, it will have to make a decisive change in policy. This change, as in defense policy, would not represent a turn to Washington against Moscow, for estranging Kyiv from Moscow should not be and is not the aim of US policy. Rather that policy represents US support for a truly strong sovereign Ukrainian state that can defend its interests with all foreign powers and conduct foreign policy and foreign economic relations to the greatest possible degree of business-like transparency. The current opacity benefits nobody except a few members of the elite, but it certainly cannot serve a truly patriotic policy or adequately defend Ukraine’ interests.

Economics and Energy.

Similar conditions hold true regarding energy. Indeed, this is the most corrupt and difficult sector to reform and where Ukraine’s record of dealing with both Moscow and the West leaves much to be desired. Here too ideally Washington and Brussels should aim for the following conditions:

  • Although this subject goes beyond Ukraine, Washington should seriously think about and implement a program with Europe to foster the overall economic and hence political recovery of the EU. This would have many benefits, among them being the revitalization of the EU and liberal democratic model for socio-economic-political development against the insidious claims and supposed benefits of a Putinist type regime.
  • Washington and Brussels should act to sustain not only Ukrainian security but broader European security by promoting diversity of suppliers and pipeline routes for Europe.
  • In Ukraine’s case this means sustaining its independent capacity to maximize its economic capabilities by exploring for shale gas, organizing a consortium through the EU to reform the gas distribution network and overall energy economy, promoting greater economic efficiency, helping Ukraine to open up to foreign investment on a strictly commercial and transparent basis without special deals or barriers favoring a corrupt few elites.
  • Helping Ukraine place its entire energy economy on a strictly commercial and more transparent basis with all of its partners, not least Russia so that it will benefit from improved business conditions with all of its trading partners not only in the energy sector.
  • In terms of specific projects this means not only exploring for shale or other energy sources in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and encouraging their safe and environmentally sound development, it also means constructing pipelines from Azerbaijan to Odessa and opening the Odessa –Brody pipeline to enhance Ukraine’s energy security and Caspian producers’ ability to ship to Europe without reliance upon Russian neo-imperial control of the pipelines.
  • As a specific policy recommendation this means strong European and American support for what appears to be the most viable gas pipeline project that is competing with the wholly politicized South Stream project, namely the Nabucco West pipeline from Azerbaijan (and hopefully across the Caspian) to Turkey and then into Europe also known as the Tran-Anatolian or TANAP pipeline. Branches could be built to Ukraine as well through the Black Sea, e.g. as in the case of oil to connect to the Odessa-Brody pipeline. This would also entail strong US diplomatic support for Nabucco West and for a “trans-Caspian pipeline.”
  • Ultimately Brussels and Washington should work for connecting Eastern Europe as a whole to all suppliers, Russia, Azerbaijan, Central Asia through a series of multiple pipelines and interconnectors utilizing the existing Russo-Ukrainian network to Eastern Europe that would ideally operate on a strictly commercial basis. That would ensure true energy security through diversity of suppliers and routes and depoliticize as far as possible the energy business. This also means substantial reforms in Ukraine to eliminate inefficiency, corrupt opacity, insider deals, barriers to investment, etc.

However, little of this will happen in practice without fundamental changes in both Ukrainian and Western policy. And absent major Ukrainian reforms the latter is unlikely to change given the current Ukrainian situation and the Western preoccupation with its own deep-seated economic crisis. Indeed, we can say with reasonable certainty that unless there is a genuine move towards democratization, namely freeing political prisoners, removing curbs on other non-governing parties removed, and rescinding constitutional manipulations the EU will not even begin to consider the DCFTA. And unless Ukraine eliminates unsustainable natural gas subsidies for consumers and establishes freer exchange rates the IMF will likely not consider the loan request it just received. And these are only minimum steps to avert the immediate emergency. Much deeper structural reforms like transparency throughout the energy economy and Ukrainian politics s a whole are needed to bring Ukraine back to a position of health from which it can then move forward independently.

In addition, at present, neither Washington nor Brussels will move quickly on security or energy issues. Indeed, on November 13, 2012, Assistant Secretary of State Phillip Gordon told a US and Balkan audience that the US would not support one or another pipeline in Europe or Eurasia over the other. In other words, Washington will not block South Stream despite its wholly negative implications. Furthermore the road for Russia on energy policy is wide open and unobstructed and Ukraine is on its own in the cold. Kyiv has nobody to blame for this outcome but itself. As the reset policies have shown, Washington will not challenge Moscow on issues of importance to it in Eurasia and does not even see this region in geopolitical terms, and this does not only include no NATO membership for Ukraine or Georgia. The silence from Washington concerning Ukraine’s current difficulties with Russia should tell any and all observers that arguments about Ukraine’s geopolitical importance, while possibly analytically or theoretically true, do not register with this Administration. US policy today privileges Russia and its ties with Moscow over a Ukraine that makes it virtually impossible for Washington to help it even if it wanted to. Indeed, this silence and neutrality regarding pipelines essentially confirms the belief, also shared by Russian experts and similarly attributed to the Kremlin, that the reset policy entails not challenging Russian hegemony over the CIS.

In energy policy the Nabucco project appears to be moribund while Azerbaijan and Turkey have begun the TANAP pipeline and will sell gas to Eastern Europe. Thus it is necessary to complete a series of interconnectors, including from Azerbaijan, if not other potential producers or transit states, to Ukraine, throughout Eastern Europe to bring trans-Caspian gas to those markets. If the Odessa-Brody pipeline for oil works out this will help but under the best of circumstances it will take years to build a pipeline bringing any Caspian gas to Ukraine and Ukraine does not have years as Russia began building South Stream on December 7, 2012.

Moreover, the US support for the only viable alternative, namely the TANAP pipeline plus interconnectors, including one to Ukraine is inconsistent. As Gordon’s remarks suggested, The State Department’s budget for fiscal year 2013 eliminated the ambassadorial position devoted to securing a trans-Caspian pipeline signaling diminishing capability and interest in building it. And it probably did so because the obstacles to bringing Caspian gas from beyond Azerbaijan (which is only sending 16 BCM annually to Turkey and Europe to start) are formidable. While the US may support energy companies like Chevron or Exxon investing in Eastern Europe, at best the results of exploration for shale gas within Ukraine will also take years to materialize. Furthermore, unless Ukraine behaves transparently with those companies little will come out of their explorations. Similarly Ukraine’s armed forces or Ministry of Defense would have to request upgraded partnership with either NATO or the Pentagon to increase defense and/or security cooperation to any significant degree and that is not happening.


Therefore if Ukraine seeks extensive and/or intensive US support without fundamental changes in its economics and politics it is doing so while continuing to act under the delusions spelled out above. It already is clear that these policies are increasingly dangerous to Ukraine. The regime’s policies have already led the West essentially to write off Ukraine and freeze ties with it while also leading Ukraine into an economic dead end. Thus the Yanukovych regime’s policies have conclusively revealed their bankruptcy and harmful consequences for Ukraine.

In addition, the start of the South Stream project and Washington’s passivity regarding it should tell Ukraine and its leaders that the wolf is at the door regarding Ukraine’s politics, economics, security, integrity, and independence. But there is no sign that Kyiv has either heard the message or absorbed its meaning. If Ukraine waits much longer and persists in its delusions then it may quickly reach a point where neither Brussels nor Washington can help it. Worse yet, if the current policy line continues, not only might potential supporters be unable to help Ukraine, they will probably not want to help it and they will then ignore the consequences of its distress as they are preoccupied with other problems. Then many wolves will flock not only to Ukraine’s but to Europe’s door as well and we will all then confront a much greater crisis with fewer resources at hand to meet it.


Past Highlight Events

RT XVII Items of Note
Highlights from Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XVII: Ukraine & Religious Freedom, held in Washington, DC on Oct. 27, 2016
UA HES SE: UA 25th B-Day
Highlights from UA HES Special Event: 'Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Modern Ukrainian State', held at the NY Princeton Club on Sept. 17, 2016
US-UA WG YS IV Highlights
Highlights from US-UA WG Yearly Summit IV: Providing Ukraine with an Annual Report Card, held at the University Club in Washington, DC on June 16, 2016
US-UA SD VII Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Security Dialogue VII held on February 25, 2016 in Washington DC
UA HES SE: WW2 Legacy
Highlights from the UA Historical Encounters Special Event: 'Contested Ground': The Legacy of WW2 in Eastern Europe, held in Edmonton on October 23-24, 2015
Holodomor SE Highlights
Highlights from the UA Historical Encounters Special Event: Taking Measure of the Holodomor, held at the Princeton Club of NY on November 5-6, 2013
US-UA SD III Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Security Dialogue III held on May 19, 2012 in Chicago, IL

  • Former UA Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko's keynote
UEAF Forum VI Highlights
Highlights from UEAF Forum VI, held in Ottawa, Canada on March 7-8, 2012
RT XII Items of Note
Highlights from Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XII: PL-UA & TR-UA, held in Washington, DC on Oct 19–20, 2011
US-UA ED III Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Energy Dialogue III, held in Washington DC
on April 15-16, 2008
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