Until the late 2000s, the Western world-Russia standoff was largely unfolding in the Eastern Europe, however since then, the West has endeavored to solidify its stance in the post-Soviet geography. Eastern Partnership, NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program and others were designated to foster relations with the post-Soviet nations and enhance their European integration. Today, Ukraine is vital for enlargement aspirations of the West, whereas for Russia, it stands for a struggle arena for prevention of approaching towards its borders. The outlines of this struggle became more evident by the late 2013, while Ukraine has aimed to determine its political future sandwiched between the two powers.
Upon the declaration of its independence, Ukraine had signed CIS accession treaty on 8 December 1991. Albeit associated with economic and political realities of the time, the treaty was signed instinctively. With 400 years of shared history with Russia, Ukraine could not had simply detached itself and dynamically integrated with the West. Regardless of substantial economic ties with the former Soviet countries, Ukraine also attempted to develop its ties with Europe.
Initial differences between Ukraine and Russia emerged in 1992-1993, during distribution of the economic legacy of the Soviet Union. Then came disputes related to the ownership of Crimea region and the Black Sea fleet. While pursuing bolstering of ties with Europe, Ukraine could not ignore the Russia factor. The parties have inked the friendship and cooperation treaty on 31 May 1997 that allowed alleviating, to certain extent, the existing problems. According to the document, the parties committed themselves to the non-use of force, avoidance of pressuring of one another and refraining from signing of agreements with the third parties aimed against either side.
Resolution of the economic problems was a crucial task for post-Soviet nations in wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, as the time passed, determining the political fate of these countries had grown in significance. This largely manifested in the relations between the U.S and Europe on one side and Russia on the other, because both cooperation and problems were directly affecting the post-Soviet nations. Ukraine’s political future can also be evaluated from this perspective.
Although geopolitical posture of certain nations provides some advantages, it nevertheless impels certain threats as well. Judging from Ukraine’s geopolitical standing, this nation historically has not been powerful and unified. Serving as a perpetual struggle arena between the West and the North, it occasionally fell to occupation by different forces. And even after the declaration of its independence in 1991, this nation had failed to properly evaluate its prospects stemming from its geopolitical position. More precisely, owing to the lack of political and economic elite in Ukraine, the generation raised under the Soviet ideology came to power in the country that was established based on Soviet and Western-style governance model. This generation failed to embrace the European values and opted to govern with not the national interests but their own ones high on their agenda. For objective and subjective reasons, Russia’s influence had not been reduced to minimum and the European integration process was eventually delayed.
In terms of mindset and ideology, Ukraine has always had significant differences at its Eastern and Western frontiers and the very division is still there. As far as traditions are concerned, Ukraine shares affinity with the Western European values. Even during the Soviet era Ukrainians living in the West and in the East were never consolidated as an ideologically unified nation. And one of the key reasons for that was substantial ethnic Russian presence in the East.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, on 14 January 1997 Ukraine accepted the obligation to eliminate its nuclear arms stockpile in the next seven years in exchange for financial assistance from the U.S. and Europe. U.S., Russia and later China provided security guarantees. While hoping to mitigate its economic grievances, Ukraine has done so at the expense of its nuclear arsenal and yet, was unable to overcome the economic challenges. Elimination of its nuclear arms capability was one of Ukraine’s gravest mistakes. This factor underlies security challenges the country faces today. Possession of nuclear arms could secure solid footing for Ukraine in the talks with the U.S., Europe and Russia and would permit it to uphold its national interests.
Along with development of its ties with European Union, Ukraine paid attention to its relations with NATO. The parties had signed ”The Charter on Distinctive Partnership between Ukraine and NATO” in July 1997. Issues of security cooperation, resolution of problems, prevention of nuclear, biological and chemical proliferation and arms control were agreed upon. The NATO member states recognized Ukraine as non-nuclear-weapon-state and pledged to support its independence and assist democratic progress there.
NATO Information and Documentation Center was established in Kiev that regularly coordinated cooperation between the parties. Although there were both similarities and differences to Ukraine’s and Russia’s policies on the European Union, Ukraine was able to achieve positive changes in its European policy. Despite that Russia welcomed Ukraine’s relations with the OSCE and the Council of Europe it was alarmed by the development of ties with the European Union and NATO.
Regardless of the fact that the European countries were not in a hurry to accept Ukraine as a full-fledged EU member, they nonetheless continued negotiations regarding the association agreement. Initial agreement was reached with Ukraine and the document was due for signing during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 29 November 2013. However, on 21 November the Ukrainian government announced that it would not be signing the Association agreement citing national security concerns. Upon the announcement of this decision the government adopted a program regarding expansion of cooperation with the CIS member states in the economic, technical, trade, political and energy fields.
Along with rejecting of the association agreement the Ukrainian government made several requests with the EU, such as maintaining the gas prices sold on the domestic market, expansion of export areas, continuation of subsidization of certain industrial sectors and lifting of restrictions on the export of metallurgical industry goods. In his meeting with then the Ukrainian Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov, EU Commissioner Stefan Füle said the demands failed to correspond with the present day realities and stressed that these issues required serious obligations to be assumed by Ukraine.
It is really fascinating that the government of Ukraine used the ”national security” term while rejecting the signing of the Association agreement. If the document envisaged for signing between the EU and Eastern Partnership nation was indeed jeopardizing the ”national security” of a nation, why these concern were never voiced during the decision-making process?
Where did this threat emanate from; European Union or Russia? This means that the government of Ukraine was aware of the imminent threats in the event of the signing of the Association agreement. Once the agreement was rejected then the Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov said that ”It was Russia that offered us the rejection of the Association agreement and expansion of Ukraine-Russia trade relations”, hinting the source from where the threat was looming.
After such an announcement by the Ukrainian government Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that they had no objections with regards to Ukraine’s economic cooperation with the EU, however, in that case Ukraine’s current economic cooperation with Russia would not be the same, while NATO membership of the country was regarded as a threat to the national security of Russia.
Although Ukraine has been trying to expand its engagement with the European Union in light of strenuous domestic situation, Russian annexation of Crimea and armed struggle of ethnic Russians transcending the separatist initiatives, the prospects of this cooperation remain obscure.
In fact, Ukraine has lost control over its Eastern region and the Western world is reluctant to render political and military assistance so vital for resolution of Ukraine’s political, economic and security problems. For now, the West is unable to respond adequately to Russia on some issues (energy, security etc.) and opts to proceed with sanctions the effect of which has so far been limited.
As the struggle between the West and Russia over Ukraine has exacerbated the government of Ukraine commenced the pursuit of what U.S. and European countries are describing as deepening of ties with the European Union. That said, it started to feel greater Russian pressure as Ukraine moved forward. It was followed by an attempt of the Ukrainian government to distance itself from the European Union and seek advancement of relations with Russia.
This was preceded by Ukraine’s decision to reject the signing of the Association agreement with the EU ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. The next day, November the 22nd, the “Batkevshina” political party leader Aleksandr Yatsenyuk took to the streets joined by other opposition parties, thus, triggering the Maydan movement. Yatsenyuk claimed that Victor Yanukovich sold himself to Russia for $20 billion in exchange for abandoning European values.
European Union became extremely alarmed when Ukrainian government followed the footsteps of Armenia that also opted not to sign the Association agreement during the Vilnius Summit. Unlike the case of Armenia, the European Union could not have remained indifferent to Ukraine ending up in seclusion. Moreover, it would be incorrect for EU to compare Armenia with Ukraine in terms of its economic, political, security and other parameters.
As Ukraine was grappling with protest movement, on 28 January 2014 European official Herman Van Rompuy declared that the Association Agreement could be signed in the event of Ukraine assuming obligations on the advancement of democracy. Once the European Union realized that it would be unable to defend Ukraine against Russia they started pressuring President Yanukovich through non-governmental organizations and public associations. Maydan movement was joined by the students and the business community and European Union, capitalizing on the dynamics of the public opinion stepped up its support of the opposition aimed at ousting of Yanukovich.
Opposition forces and the government were unable to reach a consensus amid deepening crisis of domestic politics in Ukraine and neither was Russia and EU. “The future of Ukraine lies with Europe”, Van Rompuy said in his statement on 1 February 2014, while NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated that” […] Ukraine has the right to determine its own future without external interference […] Democratic principles and rules laws must be respected”. Despite the declarations, in real life, neither of the parties involved abided by democratic principles and rules.
The wave of protests that started in fall grew in their scale as the government struggled to preserve order through deployment of police and special forces while Army chose to stay out of the events. Maydan movement had almost turned into a civil war. The opposition that received political and financial assistance from the U.S. and Europe was determined to have all of its demands accepted by the government. Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov was forced to resign as the events deteriorated.
In May 2014 the opposition started to seize administrative quarters and many government buildings were captured. The opposition camp was represented by the “Batkevshina” party leader Arsenoy Yatzenyuk, “Udar” party leader Vitaliy Klitchko and Member of Parliament Pyotr (Petro) Poroshenko and they stepped up to manage the Maydan movement. As army stood by the “Berkut” special forces remained loyal to President Yanukovich.
With President Yanukovich siding with Russia and opposition enjoying political support from the U.S. and Europe, each side stood firm for their cause. Although both sides spoke of democracy and human rights the parties were actually violating the law under the pretence of “struggling” for the sake of democracy. Meanwhile, Ukraine was on the verge of losing the tradition of statehood as the nation was moving towards the edge.
As the balance of power has more or less equalized Yanukovich called early presidential and parliamentary elections but the news of the elections to be scheduled for 2015 came to opposition’s dismay and they demanded that elections be held immediately. On 21 February Russia-brokered agreement was struck between the government and the opposition. The agreement was also sealed by the signatures of the authorized representatives of the Foreign Ministries of Poland, Germany and France. According to the agreement the new constitution was to be drafted, caretaker government appointed within the first 10 days, and presidential and parliamentary elections held upon the amendments made to the electoral law. Furthermore, during the implementation of agreement’s provisions the parties were to refrain from violence and EU representatives were to investigate the incidents that led to death cases on Maydan.
Interestingly, after the deal was secured U.S. President’s National Security Advisor Susan Rise stated that they did not consider Yanukovich Ukraine’s legitimate President, whereas the former was a democratically elected one. Such a statement by the U.S. official after the agreement was reached spurred alteration of the course of events. Thus, despite the deal, the opposition decided to continue the demonstrations. Seizing majority in the parliament shortly after, the opposition voted to oust President Yanukovich, to hold elections in May and to release from jail the former Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko. On 23 February the parliament transferred power of the President and the Prime Minister to the Chairman of the Parliament Aleksandr Turchinov who would become the President-designate until the 25 May elections. In the aftermath of such a decision by the Parliament Yanukovich was compelled to leave the country and seek refuge in Russia.
Ukraine’s Central Election Commission registered 23 candidates for the presidential elections scheduled for May the 25th. Pyotr Poroshenko, Yuliya Timoshenko and Oleg Lyashko were regarded as frontrunners with main competition predicted between the three candidates. Eventually that was the case and Pyotr Poroshenko won with 54.7 % of the votes.
Upon the election as President, Poroshenko has tried to resolve economic, political and security problems but failed to get much needed support from the European Union and U.S. While Ukraine was fighting Russia-backed ethnic Russians, the “allies” raised the issue of Ukraine’s federalization. Although newly-elected President and the new government are pro-Western, the resolution of the crisis with Russia based on support of the Western world and in line with Ukraine’s national interests is still impossible.
The West uses every occasion to declare its support for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity; however, just like in the example of Georgia, the West is actually reluctant to render substantial assistance to Ukraine. Albeit Russia is one step ahead of the West, in terms of political struggle, the West aims to leverage the situation through sanctions.
Dr. Hatem CABBARLI