Supporting a Free Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- By backing Ukraine's bid to enter NATO and the World Trade Organization (WTO), President Bush has helped bolster that country's still-vulnerable democracy and fledgling revolution. The benefits Ukraine acquires from being part of the global democratic club will be appreciated by repressed populations in the Caucasus and Central Asia and in the consolidating democracies of the Balkans.

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko made his first visit to Washington since taking office in January, after being ushered into power by a massive pro-democracy movement. After meeting with Mr. Yushchenko, Mr. Bush said he supported Ukraine's entry to the WTO and NATO, while noting that the country will have to reach some targets to be seriously considered as a candidate for the alliance. Mr. Yushchenko would like his country to join the WTO by the end of this year.

NATO has already been transformed from a strong military alliance of countries committed to defending each other into a kind of political/security club. That transformation is a fait accompli, and Ukraine's entry to the alliance would not therefore alter its dynamics in any significant way. While the strength of NATO has become diluted through enlargement, its expansion does appear to have hastened democratic reform in parts of Europe by offering countries an attractive carrot to democratize. Entry to the WTO, meanwhile, provides countries with a clear incentive to liberalize their economies and drop trade barriers -- a process that often occurs in tandem with democratization.

Mr. Bush's support for Ukraine's entry into NATO and the WTO helps make clear how the world's superpower believes a budding democracy should be rewarded, without undermining the integrity or strength of the institutions. In some parts of the Caucasus, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, Mr. Bush's position could resonate strongly. Those countries can aspire to eventual NATO membership should the people launch their own successful democratic revolutions. Mr. Bush's endorsement of Ukraine entering NATO and the WTO comes at a particularly propitious time. The peaceful, democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine are having a global impact, and could particularly affect the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Also, Mr. Bush's support will help to underpin Mr. Yushchenko's democratic government, as the Ukrainian people see their president can bring concrete benefits to their country. Like Georgia, Ukraine is a politically fractured nation, and Mr. Yushchenko faces considerable difficulties in unifying the country and projecting federal rule to the eastern part of the state. Mr. Bush's support could help empower Mr. Yushchenko and his nation.

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