Strategic Situation of Ukraine in 2010 and Ukrainian-US Relations

US-UA Working Group Inaugural Dinner

Strategic Situation of Ukraine in 2010 and Ukrainian-US Relations

Yuri Scherbak

Featured remarks by Yuri Scherbak, Ambassador of Ukraine (retired), and President of the Institute for Sustainable Development, delivered at the US-UA WG Inaugural Dinner, held in Washington DC on June 22, 2010.

In his article “Helping Others Defend Themselves” (Foreign Affairs, May-June 2010), Mr. Gates, the US Secretary of Defense points out that “Strategic reality demands that the US Government get better at what is called ‘building partner capacity’: helping other countries defend themselves […] Helping other countries better provide for their own security will be a key and enduring test for US global leadership and a critical part of protecting US security as well”.

These words would sound very compelling if, in addition to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Gates would mention in his article such countries as Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic and other US allies in Central and Eastern Europe.

Yet, these countries, especially Ukraine – a strategic partner of the United States – have disappeared from the radars of the White House. Probably, the US leaders believe that the situation in Ukraine raises no concerns and that the democratic development of the country has been secured.

Well, I have news for them: that is not so. I would like to believe that Washington have noticed the dramatic changes taking place in Ukraine since the beginning of 2010. These developments pose a threat to the country’s integrity and considerably change the geopolitical situation in Europe.

Gaining power by the regime of Yanukovich by means of democratic elections has drastically changed the strategic vector of Ukraine’s development, both in domestic and foreign policy.

The determined and harsh Blitzkrieg of establishing the authoritarian regime of Yanukovich, which was carried out with the violation of the Constitution and other legislation of Ukraine, brought Ukraine to the Russian sphere of influence.

I wonder what would be the reaction of the US Congress and American society, if a President of the United States, elected by a narrow majority, in violation of the US Constitution and federal laws, would override the parliament, judiciary and local authorities, limit actions of the opposition, curtail the freedom of speech, and make an about-turn in the vector of the country’s development to please a neighboring country – Canada or Mexico.

The situation in Ukraine after the hundred days of Yanukovich’s presidency resembles the period of the Brezhnev’s doctrine of the so-called “limited sovereignty of socialist states”. The difference is that today the United States and the EU have neither political will nor resources to offer resistance to the process of Ukraine losing its sovereignty.

We repeatedly hear these days another word from the Cold war dictionary and that is “finlandization” – the term referring to Russian attempts of limiting the foreign-policy independence and democratic development of its neighboring countries. Moscow aims to impose the role of a satellite on Ukraine, with a consequence of Russia automatically becoming a new empire, according to the famous Brzezinski’s formula.

Yanukovich, by changing the basic legislation of Ukraine on the Euro-Atlantic direction of development in just several hours, renounced the perspective of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO and declared the non-block status of Ukraine. Moscow has already voiced its invitation to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization – the Kremlin’s military and political brainchild – the Tashkent Eurasian block.

The Kharkiv agreements lease the territory of Ukraine in Crimea to Russia for an unprecedentedly long period, by limiting the sovereignty of Ukraine and considerably changing the balance of power in the Black Sea region. Moscow has already announced its intention to strengthen and modernize the Russian Black-Sea Fleet.

A number of joint declarations by the leaders of Russia and Ukraine bring the foreign policy of our state under the Russian foreign-policy lead and deprive the Ukrainian diplomacy of the freedom of maneuver.

During this short period of time, there was an unprecedented attack on human rights and freedoms, including the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly, on the Ukrainian parliamentarianism, as well as on national Ukrainian values – language, culture and history.

The regime of Yanukovich copies the Putin’s model of the so-called “ruled democracy”.

A popular Ukrainian weekly has recently published a noteworthy opinion poll. People were asked about the actions of the new authorities which are considered as posing the biggest threat to Ukraine. According to the poll, for 28.8% respondents this was the establishment of the authoritarian model of power; 20.5% named the political and economic integration with Russia; 17.8% regarded the assault on the Ukrainian language as the most endangering action; 11% named the signing of the Kharkiv agreements, 9.5% see the biggest threat in the curtailing of the freedom of speech, while for 6.7% this is the abandonment of the NATO idea. Only 4% of respondents believe that the current authorities do not pose any threat.

All this begs a question: doesn’t the US administration – the State Department, the NSC, the CIA and the White House – unlike the ordinary Ukrainians, see and understand what is going on in Ukraine? Is transition under the Russian defense umbrella only Ukraine’s domestic issue? Are the 180 pounds of the enriched uranium promised by Yanukovich an adequate substitute for the increasingly shrinking democracy in Ukraine for United States? Aren’t US strategists and American public worried by the growth of Russian influence on the eastern borders of NATO and EU and Ukraine’s transformation into a Russia’s satellite?

The next step may well be drawing of Poland into the Russian sphere of interests, as symbolized by the obscure plane crush in Katyn. Would the United States still be indifferent, if the axis Germany-Poland-Ukraine-Russia would be formed to force the US out of Europe?

Perhaps the US, being tired by Ukraine, would feel relief at the stabilization of political life, with a single authoritarian presidential line of command being formed and with a prospect of voices of the parliamentary opposition, civil society and mass media soon becoming inaudible.

Let’s ask ourselves: what would be the price of such stabilization?

If, for Western democracies, stabilization is a result of compromises, extensive negotiations and a search of consensus, with observance of all democratic procedures, in the post-Soviet authoritarian governance model stabilization means a forcible solving of problems by using administrative tools in violation of the rule of law, by increasing pressure and curtailing the freedom of speech and human rights. Is that the model of Ukraine’s stabilization the United States would like to see?

As a former Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA, I have deep respect for Vice President Joseph Biden, as a distinguished political actor and a recognized authority on international security issues. My colleagues and I listened carefully to his speech in Kyiv, when he assured us that the “reset” of the US-Russian relationship did not mean that the United States had given consent to domination of the Moscow’s sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space.

However, facts prove to the contrary. Ukrainian and some foreign politicians and experts conclude that the United States, due to the “reset” and priority of their interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, has “surrendered” Ukraine to Moscow. Russian analysts write about this with undisguised pleasure. One such expert, who is known for voicing Kremlin thoughts, wrote (I quote): “It is quite obvious that Medvedev has staked on the support of Obama, who is performing poorly both in domestic and foreign policy. For today, the new project of strategic arm treaty is the only Obama’s achievement in foreign policy and he must realize that well himself. In response to this, Obama has obviously agreed to make certain concessions to Russia in the post-Soviet space. The position of the Democrats’ Administration on Ukraine and the actual surrender of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have shown that Obama is ready to go quite far in taking away the main achievements of Republicans, gained under George W. Bush. Yuschenko, Saakashvili and Bakiev were all creations of Republicans. And because this is so, they are nobodies for Obama. Bakiev and Yuschenko have already fallen” (end of the quote).

No slogans of the Yanukovich’s regime about European integration and strategic partnership with the United States could cover up the very dangerous processes that could change the geopolitical situation in Europe, upset the strategic balance of power that existed in the Central and East European region and considerably affect the developments there in the next decades.

This reminds of the partition of Europe in Munich in 1938 and Moscow in 1939, although in a different, softer form. Everybody knows what the result of that redivision of spheres of influence was.

It would be a strategic defeat for the United States if it considers Russia and Ukraine as a single geopolitical space, as that was during the Soviet Union existence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I represent here the Public Committee for the Defense of Ukraine created this May. The Committee is composed of the intellectual elite of Ukraine – well-known representatives of civil society and youth movement and of several political parties. The Committee already has 23 regional and town organizations and more than 40 thousand registered individual supporters. Local Committees for the Defense of Ukraine have been formed in several European states, in the USA and Canada. For the first time since 1991, there have been protest actions abroad to support the opposition in its disapproval of Yanukovich’s attempts to russify Ukraine, bind it to Russian economic interests and Russian foreign policy, return to the deceitful history of the Soviet era and the Soviet-like practice of suppressing information and oppressing opposition.

As a former Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA, as a person who contributed to building the Ukrainian-US strategic partnership, I say with all responsibility: the Public Committee for the Defense of Ukraine supports the strategic partnership between our two countries. We don’t want to act according to the principle “the worse is for the country, the better for the opposition”. We call for cooperation of Ukraine with the IMF and the World Bank and other international organizations. However, such cooperation should take place not at the expense of the vital national interests of Ukraine.

That’s why I signed, together with Committee’s coordinator Ambassador Dmytro Pavlychko, an appeal to the International Monetary Fund, in which we draw attention to the absence of systemic reforms in Ukraine and call to intensify monitoring and control over actions of Azarov’s government and begin crediting only upon launching of serious reforms in tax, budget, pension and energy areas.

We are now waiting for the visit of US State Secretary Hillary Clinton to Ukraine and hope that she would assess the current situation in an objective manner and meet with the opposition.

We are against the false rhetoric of strengthening the friendship between Ukraine and Russia because what is happening now is not deepening of good neighborly relations but a takeover of a smaller and weaker neighbor by a stronger and a more aggressive one.

We are against the US greeting of the so-called stabilization in Ukraine, which would eventually lead to destabilization of the situation in the region.

We don’t ask the United States to work on the opposition side. The Ukrainian opposition will do its job itself. But we hope that the US will wake up and realize that the geopolitical situation in Europe changes quickly not in favor of America.

Dear friends,

For more than 10 years we listened to American advice on how Ukraine should develop and agreed with most suggestions. We understood what the syndrome of Ukraine fatigue was. But today there is a syndrome of US fatigue being formed in Ukraine. US information presence in Ukrainian media has decreased and anti-American feelings become more common in society. As a former Ambassador to the US, I regret about vanishing of results of our fruitful cooperation in a number of spheres and about waste of funds, time and human resources if those initiatives are now to be abandoned.

A survey of the Ukrainian foreign policy made by the Razumkov Centre before Yanukovich came to power points out the following worrying facts. 79.8% of experts believe that Ukraine DOES NOT have reliable external guarantees of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. 45.2% estimated the US-Ukrainian relationship as good (5 years ago 70-80% of experts believed so), while 39.4% estimated the relationship as being unstable. 28.4 % of experts called for deepening of relationship with Russia, 41.3% – with the EU and only 11.9% with the United States. In comparison to 2005, in 2009 there was a growth in the number of experts who are skeptical about the United States.

If the United States does not want to lose the support of Ukrainian society for good, then it should seriously reconsider its attitude towards the recent developments in Ukraine and towards the attempts of Yanukovich and his team to establish a pro-Russian anti-democratic anti-Ukrainian satellite regime. By the way, there are talks among Ukrainian civil society experts about the need to strengthen ties with China.

The world has drastically changed within the last ten years and now lives in the anticipation of a global earthquake. Divisions have deepened and contradictions have sharpened – those between globalization and nationalism, between the USA and Europe, between the USA and China, between northern and southern parts of Europe and so on.

We understand the complicated situation of the United States, which loses the dominant positions in the world and wages exhaustive wars in the Middle East and Asia. But we believe in the ability of the USA to reject utopian theories of global fraternity and return to the wise realism of Truman and Reagan in assessment of the world situation and growing threats.

In this context we believe in continued validity of the previously repeated statements of US officials about the importance of existence of the free independent democratic and sovereign Ukrainian state, whose security and well-being are critical for the United States. If these were not empty words, then stop being silent. I call upon the US Congress, the US Administration, mass media and American public to pay attention to the degrading situation in Ukraine and, until it’s not too late, to provide an adequate response to what is happening in the country.

This would be the highest expression of our strategic partnership.