US, Ukraine & Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’ Expectations

Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable X:
"Compelling Bilateral Relations"

US, Ukraine & Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’ Expectations

Yuri Scherbak

Featured remarks by Yuri Scherbak, Ambassador of Ukraine (retired), and President of the Institute for Sustainable Development, delivered at Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT X: Compelling Bilateral Relations, held in Washington DC on Oct 21–22, 2009.

In several days we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. This event marked the end of the cold war and the end of the Communist dominance in Eastern and Central Europe. Eventually, it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and restoration of Ukraine”s state independence.

We witnessed the birth of new hopes of peaceful and democratic future for all European nations without divide, without hostility and military conflicts. We believed in this and worked towards fulfilling the dream of Ukraine joining the European and Euro-Atlantic structures.

And what do we see today?

We observe ruining of the post-Cold war order related to the deep financial, political, institutional and moral crisis of the humankind and intensification of the struggle for natural resources.

We watch a new leader – China – rising on the world stage.

We witness the Americans” failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and diminishing of the U.S. leading role and authority on the global scale.

We observe the growing imperial ambitions and hostile spirit of Russia, which is turning into an authoritarian state that claims a dominant role in the post-Soviet space. Using the weakness of the United States and indecisiveness of the European Union, Russia conducted a military operation against Georgia, with disproportionate use of military force, ethnic cleansing of Georgians and violation of Georgia”s territorial integrity.

Russia turned out to be a good student in the geopolitical game: we see it mimicking some of the West”s previous geopolitical moves such as supporting independence of South Ossetia and Abkhasia with reference to the Kosovo precedent – a practice that could be possibly extended to other disputed areas in the Russian near-abroad.

In the so-called frozen conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union, Russia”s persistent interference – either in the form of the military presence or as political and economic pressure on the parties to the conflict – serves as a chilling agent that does not allow the situation to unfreeze. It is worth reminding that all those territories in the region where Russia preserves and builds up its military presence are the breeding ground for drug trafficking, smuggling and counterfeiting, which could not exist without implicit backing of Russian officials. On the other hand, those areas are close to existing or potential strategic transport routes or oil and gas pipelines. So, the so-called Russian peace-enforcement or peace-keeping is far from contributing to regional security but clearly provides substantial economic, not to say political, benefits to Russia.

And, finally, we see the unprecedented weakening of the geopolitical position of Ukraine, both due to the above-mentioned external reasons and as a result of the country”s internal disturbing developments. Among the latter is the current state anarchy, the Hobbesian war of all against all” among politicians and within the Ukrainian authorities, which led to the degradation of the state system of Ukraine, increase of corruption and marginalization of the Ukrainian foreign policy.

This sad and disappointing result of the developments taking place within a one-generation period (20 years) is evidence of the drastic growth of threats to existence of the Ukrainian statehood in the 21st century.

The message of President Medvedev to President Yushchenko became a brutal ultimatum to the whole people of Ukraine, to its security and civilizational Euro-Atlantic choice, and its right to have its own history and national identity. The goal of Moscow is obvious: to assert its claim to the privileged sphere of interests and to turn Ukraine into a protectorate or a bandustan of Russia, ruled by a puppet pro-Russian government. If such actions succeed, there are prospects for Ukraine to turn into a part of the Eurasian empire, lose its European and national identity, develop into a demographic, as well raw-material and food reserve of Russia and become a dangerous Eurasian base for hostile actions against its members – EU and NATO member-states.

The Ukrainian civil society and expert community is alarmed by the growing Russia”s economic, informational and even military threat to Ukraine. If you analyze statements of Russian politicians, military experts and media representatives, it would become clear that this alarm is well-grounded:

The information war of Russia against Ukraine has intensified and this has already had a number of consequences. According to a recent poll conducted by the Moscow-based Levada Centre, 33% of Russians have a negative attitude to the US, 19% to the EU, 44% to Ukraine and 65% to Georgia.

A targeted campaign is waged to discredit the Ukrainian values, language and history in order to prepare the Russian population for possible hostile actions against Ukraine, in particular in Crimea, by making those actions legitimate in the eyes of the Russian people.

Activities of the pro-Russian fifth column” in Ukraine, agents of influence and FSB and GRU intelligence units on our territory have sharply intensified. There have been revealed facts of transfer of large sums of money from Russia to pro-Russian organizations in Ukraine. Under these circumstances, respective actions of the Ukrainian counterintelligence seem to be ineffective.

Recent amendments to its legislation allow Russia to deploy troops to protect the so-called Russians abroad”, that is, those nationals of Ukraine who received Russian passports, as well as to conduct secret special operations against unwanted persons or organizations.

Pro-democratic forces that care for Ukraine”s future draw concrete conclusions from these developments. The conclusions are made not in the neoliberal language of political correctness but in the language of realism, taking into account the power balance and the factor of military threats.

The United States, by entering the process of resetting” the relationship with Russia and being interested in cooperation with Russia on solving the problem of Afghanistan and Iran, has actually agreed to Russia”s demand to declare Ukraine as a zone of imperial interests of Russia. No statement of US Vice-President Joe Biden or Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow, who deny that Ukraine has become a means of payment in the deal between the US and Russia, can reassure the Ukrainian civil society. There is a growing distrust in the USA and the ability of its leadership to fulfill its commitments.

There are civic organizations created with aim of protecting the Ukrainian statehood and democracy. More and more people are concerned with the current developments and believe that Russia will undertake hostile actions towards Ukraine – either in the form of the new gas war or of military provocations in Crimea. All this is taking place against the background of the deepened political struggle in connection with the presidential elections.

We call for a return to the Budapest protocol of 1994 regarding assurances of our security by great powers and believe it is necessary to conduct a special session of negotiations to renew these obligations. This could be done in the course of the next round of negotiations on the non-proliferation regime to be held in 2010 in New-York.

There is an opinion, which sounds more and more often these days, that Ukraine made a fatal mistake when it surrendered its nuclear weapon and took on trust the reassurance of the USA, Russia, United Kingdom and France that they would protect Ukraine in case of need. 

There are even calls to recreate Ukrainian nuclear (tactical) weapons to deter a potential aggressor. According to some estimates, the Ukrainian technical, scientific and nuclear potential allows to do that within a short time period.

Definitely, this kind of thinking is not productive if our country wants to build an image of a responsible and trustworthy partner on the international arena, and, luckily, at the moment those pro-nuclear voices do not have support neither among the wider public nor among the ruling elites but this may change if threats to Ukrainian statehood become more pronounced.

Having found itself in the grey security zone, abandoned by the western allies, Ukraine has to pursue an independent defense policy, with no perspective for joining NATO and the EU.

This means that now we have to completely rebuild our defense strategy, which, for a long time, was based on the premises of the Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. Now that the words NATO membership” are disappearing from the speeches of our politicians, as well as from declarations of our European and American partners who have actually declined the admission perspective for Ukraine, it is critical to think how we can close the emerging security gap and on what forces we can count in this effort.

Even though Ukraine seems to be left alone in solving that puzzle, the problem of our defense is not only our own. Any possible military operations against Ukraine, even limited in time and space, could potentially lead to an all-European catastrophe. The concentration of nuclear power plants, energy and chemical facilities, transport routes and power lines on the territory of Ukraine is such that any action will cause mass losses among the civilian population and create millions of refugees fleeing to the West.

Dear friends, we gather for the 10th time here in Washington, in Brussels, Kyiv or Kharkiv and have calming discussions about Ukraine”s road to Europe and the US support of its strategic ally.

As a permanent participant of all those meetings and a person with considerable political experience, I have the moral right to say: enough of reassuring each other! It is time to wake up and face the truth.

As a former Ambassador to the United States and Canada, I call our American and Canadian friends to inform the leadership of their states, their civil society and media about our concerns.

I would also like to remind you that the public in Central Europe is also concerned about the recent change in the US plans regarding placement of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), which is considered by many as a concession of Obama”s administration to Moscow”s pressure.

Americans risk losing their supporters in this part of the world if they continue the current policy of abandoning their allies for the sake of seeming warming of relationship with Russia and pleasing it to ensure its backing of US plans elsewhere.

Russian politicians love to repeat the words of Emperor Alexander the Third who said that in the whole world Russia has only two reliable allies – its army and its fleet”. Taking into account its geopolitical ambitions, Russia could become only an ally of the moment for the US, so trading several strategic allies for one questionable tactic partner seems to be a short-sighted policy.

Apart from losing its allies, the US may also lose in a larger geopolitical game. Nobody has disaffirmed the axiom of the geopolitical theory that the region and Ukraine in particular is a key to the fate of the whole Europe.
It is possible to receive a Nobel Peace prize and at the same time lose peace, lose Europe. Let”s not forget this.

The American administration and European liberals call us to be friends with Russia. Having good neighborly relationship with Russia is our objective as well – we definitely do not need the unreasonable and counterproductive animosity with our big neighbor. But what should be the price of that? The price of losing our sovereignty and our national values?