Ukraine Continues To Knock On The West’s Doors But Looks Back To Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kiev has suffered several setbacks in its Euro-Atlantic integration plans. The European Union came up with a collective plan for Ukraine and several other post-Soviet states that does not give Ukraine the prospect of EU membership.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kiev.

NATO refrained from offering a Membership Action Plan (MAP), although President Viktor Yushchenko expected it in 2008. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s leaders are turning their eyes to Russia.

It remains to be seen whether Kiev is being sucked back into Moscow’s orbit or is returning to the multi-vector tactics of former President Leonid Kuchma (1994-2004), when Kyiv routinely played on differences between Moscow and the West.

The European Commission announced on December 3 that it would launch the Eastern Partnership plan aimed at political and economic integration for Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

Lumping Ukraine together with its less-developed neighbors would probably have been unthinkable in the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution, but after several years of political turmoil this is being presented by the EU as “a substantial upgrading of the level of political engagement”.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s reaction was reserved. While hailing the initiative, it noted that “Ukraine is ready to support and pragmatically use all elements of the Eastern Partnership in case the new EU policy is not presented as an alternative to the prospect of EU membership”.

Coincidentally, NATO pushed aside the MAP for Ukraine as a mechanism for eventual accession on the same day the EU touted for the Eastern Partnership.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko put on a brave face about the North Atlantic Council’s decision on December 3. “At this stage, we have achieved a desired result,” he said in Brussels. “We received a de facto MAP for joining NATO”. Ohryzko added that Ukraine might skip a formal MAP, joining NATO without it.

The pro-Western Ukrainian daily Den opined that Ohryzko’s optimism was out of place. It suggested on December 4 that NATO had offered the Annual National Program (ANP) instead of a MAP just so Kiev could save face.

A MAP, according to Den, was ruled out, given the current political crisis in Kyiv and the Ukrainian leaders’ uncertainty about the country’s foreign policy course. Interestingly, Den’s opinion coincided with that of Russia’s hard-line envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, who said that “nobody knows what it [ANP] means” and that it amounted to a refusal of a MAP to Kiev.

Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of Ukraine’s major opposition Party of Regions (PRU), hailed NATO’s decision. “Ukrainians have never supported the idea of joining NATO,” he said.

Yanukovych underscored the Russian factor: “The world leaders have understood and accepted the fact that Ukrainians, speaking against NATO membership, have expressed their rejection of more dividing lines between the two brotherly nations, Ukraine and Russia”.

President Viktor Yushchenko, who remains the only firmly pro-NATO Ukrainian leader, conceded, probably for the first time, that Russia might be involved in possible talks on NATO membership for Ukraine.

AFP, which interviewed Yushchenko, reported that he meant Russia when he said, "We must hold negotiations with all parties that are interested or not interested in Ukraine moving closer to NATO”.

Shortly before the North Atlantic Council’s meeting, Yushchenko made an apparent effort to mend relations with Russia, which were damaged after Moscow denounced the Orange Revolution.

On December 1 Yushchenko signed decrees, one appointing Ambassador to Russia Kostyantyn Hryshchenko as a special representative for developing relations with Russia, authorizing him to hold talks independently with Russian officials from the Foreign Ministry, and another setting up an interagency group for Ukrainian-Russian relations, chaired by National Security and Defense Council (SNBO) Secretary Raisa Bohatyryova.

Explaining his new responsibilities, Hryshchenko said that relations with Russia had been developing in the wrong direction, adding that “changes are needed.”

On December 3 the Ukrainian version of the Russian daily Kommersant quoted an SNBO source as saying that on several occasions Moscow had expressed its dissatisfaction with Ohryzko’s tone.

Ohryzko, who often refuses to speak Russian even when asked, is too outspoken to deal with Moscow at a time when Ukraine is in tough negotiations over Russian gas prices. Hryshchenko, who is linked to Yanukovych’s party, should speak a language better understood in Moscow.

Yanukovych, attending a congress of the One Russia party in Moscow in November, pledged that his PRU would serve as “a guarantor of stability” in bilateral relations and suggested reviving the idea of a Single Economic Space with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Yushchenko’s advisor Andry Kyslynsky promptly accused Yanukovych and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of competing for the Kremlin’s favor. Den suggested that through appointing Hryshchenko to deal with Moscow, Yushchenko may be trying to overtake his rivals in building bridges to Russia.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor

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