The Importance of Being Realistic

KIEV, Ukraine -- There is no doubt that the U. S. should not give up on Ukraine. Nonetheless, as the situation in Iraq illustrates, this does not mean that the U. S. can remake the former Soviet space or ignore existing realities.

President Yushchenko (L) meets with President Bush

Neither the U.S. nor the European Union is willing to make Ukraine their first priority. There are plenty of other markets for businesses to pursue and sources of inexpensive and educated labor to which to outsource.

If Ukraine were brought into NATO, for example, it would reinforce Russian fears about being encircled, which would likely have undesirable repercussions. This is not a question of “appeasement,” but rather one of simply dealing with the world as it is.

With regard to EU membership, Turkey can make a more convincing argument for accession than can Ukraine (not to mention that Turkish membership would be a more positive development for the world).

The U. S. is overextended and the EU is trying to determine its own direction for the future. Just as the West could not “rescue” Hungary in 1956, it would be foolish to think that those exercising power in Kyiv can ignore geographic and historical realities.

It is no accident that any survey course in Russian history at a Western university devotes at least some of its coverage to the Kyivan Rus period.

As far as Ukraine leaning towards the West is concerned, President Victor Yushchenko may be an excellent economist and may share the same values as Western leaders.

However, the same can be said about the pro-reform leader of Russia’s Yabloko Party, Grigory Yavlinsky. Like Yushchenko, Yavlinsky is an economist. But visionaries, businesspeople and academics do not automatically turn out to be great, much less effective, presidents.

Another problem is that revolutions are rarely understood as such when they are actually in progress. This point even led to the formation of a popular proverb in the early Soviet era: “An uprising can never succeed, because a successful uprising goes by a different name.”

Not all uprising must be violent, as some, as was the case in Ukraine, occur at the ballot box. The Orange Revolution may have not have come full circle to more resemble an uprising but certain realities, however distasteful, must be addressed all the same.

The choice of Viktor Yanukovych as the new prime minister seems to reflect these realities. The Russian-backed former presidential candidate may prove to be only a transitional figure, but he is a better fit than the other alternatives available.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in particular, was compromised for most sides by her background (she gained the nickname “the gas princess” for alleged activities in the energy sector) and there were concerns that she would use the office for the enrichment of herself and her friends. At least over the short term, choosing Yanukovych may bring stability in Ukraine, which is what most people want.

Political and economic transformation takes time. It took those in the West more than a decade to stop putting or using the word “the” before Ukraine. England did not become a constitutional monarchy overnight. It was a case of evolving circumstances, new technologies, and generational change.

The issue where this might be most important is with regard to NATO. It’s hard to see how Ukraine, given its current instability, could be welcome as a NATO member - regardless of whether it is 30 percent or 60 percent of the population that wants to join.

At any point in history, the people living at any time thought they were living in modern times. World War I was to have been the war to end all wars and the Versailles Treaty altered the borders of Europe.

The League of Nations failed, Germany annexed Austria, France and Great Britain sold out Czechoslovakia and Europe’s borders changed again. The League of Nations failed and the armistice in Europe ended. After the victory of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union over the Third Reich, Europe’s borers changed once again.

The post-1945 demarcations in Europe were preserved until Yugoslavia broke up. However, in the meantime the colonies of European states in Asia and Africa gained independence.

On a whim, then Communist Party Secretary-General Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. At that time in the Soviet Union the borders between its constituent parts mattered little.

For representational purposes, who really cares where North Dakota ends and South Dakota begins? The point is that men draw up borders (usually ignoring the wishes of inhabitants) and so the map of the world changes over time.

Think about it: what if current divisions resulted in an uprising in Ukraine’s ethnic-Russian east and the Ukrainian government used force to quell the rebellion. The chances of Russian intervention would be great, at which point it is hardly credible that any NATO country would be willing to resort to - or even threaten – military action.

With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, NATO is an organization looking for a mission. There are many different positive missions that could be suggested, but it is doubtful that would be much support in turning it into a force for humanitarian intervention around the world or to function in a peacekeeping role in the truest sense of the term. That is, using force against individuals or bodies who care to violate any ceasefire.

At present, when it comes to providing the stability Ukraine clearly needs, Viktor Yanukovych looks like a better bet than NATO. Events in Ukraine and Russia are off the front pages of most newspapers.

The conflict in Lebanon and its larger implications (for example, the roles of Syria and Iran) are the hot stories with good visuals for television and photojournalists, whereas the complexities of Russian-Ukrainian relations don’t generate sufficiently interesting visual images other than cartoons.

Perhaps, France, the U.S. and others may be able to arrange a peacekeeping force under U.N. or NATO auspices that will, indeed, keep the peace. That is, to act as a military force against violators of ceasefire agreements. Perhaps making Israel a member of NATO as part of a larger Middle Eastern settlement has more merit.

As a functioning parliamentary democracy with a market economy, Israel has more in common with NATO members than either Ukraine or Russia. Israel already enjoys special trade status with the EU and the U.S. and competes in international sports competitions in Europe since its Arab neighbors refuse to recognize its right to exist (with the exception of Jordan and Egypt).

Now who was it that said “nothing ever happens in August?

Source: Kyiv Post