Ukraine Headed For NATO

MOSCOW, Russia -- The speech made by U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney at the Baltic and Black Sea Summit in Vilnius has shown that the United States is ready for a continued complication of relations with Russia.

U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney

The U.S. goal is to keep expanding in the former Soviet space, which can blow up the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The CIS policies have been traditionally influenced by Russia, but the situation started changing several years ago. The Community of Democratic Choice established last year includes three CIS states - Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Their leaders attended the Vilnius summit alongside the new NATO members - the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili reaffirmed their pro-Western course. Yushchenko said his country hoped to become an associated member of the European Union and to join NATO, but that calm statement was as unpleasant to Russia as the emotional attacks by Saakashvili.

Georgia, which has not settled the Abkhazian or South Ossetian problems, cannot be admitted to NATO because of this. Ukraine's position is somewhat different. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in late April: "All of NATO's 26 member-nations support Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration, both politically and practically, and the [Sevastopol] base issue will not stop this."

Ukraine's access to the Alliance is hindered by the presence of the armed forces of a non-member on its territory. However, the U.S. and many other NATO states, primarily those that represent "New Europe," may disregard this principle because they want Ukraine to join the bloc as soon as possible.

The West seems unsure that Kiev's pro-Western choice has become irreversible. Verbal encouragement of Ukrainian regime's policies and criticism of Moscow, such as made by Cheney in Vilnius, seem insufficient. The West may use the political opportunities offered by Yushchenko's pro-Western government, especially because experts forecast that the next Ukrainian government will be pro-Western too. In a word, Ukraine may be admitted to NATO in 2008-2010.

This will come as a major shock for Russia, and not only because the Kremlin regards the post-Soviet space as its sphere of influence - this is why it reacted so strongly when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russians should "recognize that we have legitimate interests and relationships with countries that are in their neighborhood even if those countries were once part of the Soviet Union."

Moscow cannot prohibit the United States to operate in these countries, but the two states pursue opposite goals in Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova. Therefore, the strengthening of the U.S. stand there is fraught with increased rivalry between them.

Moreover, Slavic and predominantly Orthodox Ukraine had been incorporated into Russia in the 17th century, and Russians cannot imagine it joining a bloc that is regarded negatively in Russia. For decades NATO had been in stark confrontation with the Soviet Union, and its break-up did not improve Russians' attitude to it because of the 1999 war in Yugoslavia.

They mistrust the Alliance's claim that it has become a purely political organization. The admission of the Baltic countries to NATO alarmed mostly the Russian establishment, because the general public in the Soviet Union had regarded them as "Western" republics. But Ukraine's accession will most certainly provoke sharp anti-Western sentiments in the Russian elite and the public. The psychological injury will fan the siege mentality, which is only a step away from another, though slightly different, cold war.

The U.S. is ready to take the risk because the Bush administration fears the growing influence of Russia in Europe. The swelling capitalization of state-owned energy giant Gazprom and Russia's increasing economic independence, including active repayment of foreign debts, the growth of gold and international reserves, and the accumulation of the Stabilization Fund, may strengthen the Kremlin's foreign policy ambitions. This is why the U.S. has opted for a highly risky strategy of "pre-emptive deterrence" in regard to Russia, with the key part assigned to the Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine.

Source: RIA Novosti