It would probably be an understatement to say that the Kremlin was likely not pleased with the unprecedented number of standing ovations with which American lawmakers welcomed Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to Capitol Hill. For the Russian politicians and strategists who still see the world primarily through the geopolitical lens, the success of Yushchenko’s April 4-6 visit to the United States served as yet another confirmation of Moscow’s defeat in one of the most decisive battles in the war of “Russian imperial succession.”
The Kremlin’s general attitude toward the new U.S.-Ukrainian rapprochement was best encapsulated in one commentary that bluntly stated that the Ukrainian leader’s visit to America just laid bare Kyiv’s ultimate strategic goal, which is “membership in the European Union and NATO.” Russian reaction to American enthusiasm about the Orange Revolution and its leader indeed appears to be a mixture of jealousy and irritation. According to Sergei Oznobishchev, director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments, “In the United States there’s a certain euphoria connected with the figure of Yushchenko, with the aura of his democratic revolution and with the fact that a huge wedge was driven into the remainder of the Soviet Empire, as a result of which a large chunk is now drifting towards the West.” That’s why, the Russian expert contends, Washington is inclined today to “take desirable for real,” while ignoring some “dubitable aspects” of Ukraine’s current political and economic situation like, for example, the “ongoing campaign of deprivatization.”
The bulk of Russian foreign policy experts are convinced that America is interested in the weakening of Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet lands. Some of them are warning that Kyiv has already demonstrated its readiness to play the role of an informal leader — and not only within the GUUAM group, comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. Some Moscow analysts cite the Yushchenko government’s initiative to mediate in Kyrgyz political crisis as an example of Kyiv’s new geostrategic assertiveness.
Remarkably, while in the United States, Yushchenko made it perfectly clear that he considers that the GUUAM regional bloc, which — as he specifically chose to stress — “was born in Washington in the late 1990s,” has good prospects. Yushchenko’s press service reported that he said this during his speech to students and faculty at Georgetown University. “GUUAM should find its second wind,” Yushchenko proclaimed. Furthermore, he said that Ukraine was ready to take on the responsibility of a regional leader that would have a positive influence on democratic development in other countries.
It was undoubtedly such statements that prompted one Russian commentator to argue, “The Yushchenko team’s immediate objective is to turn Ukraine into a regional power — such as Brazil in South America or India in Asia.” If Yushchenko succeeds in his strategic aspirations, the commentary continues, America’s geopolitical goals will be achieved as well, since the “White House seeks to create a powerful counterbalance to Russia in the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States.”
It is no wonder that one of the key issues discussed by the Russian analytic community is what Moscow can actually do to prevent further erosion of its influence in the western part of the CIS in general and in Ukraine in particular. The spectrum of opinion appears rather broad. The noted geopolitician Alexander Dugin, for example, suggests, “inciting mutiny in the southeastern part of Ukraine” because Russia simply lacks other levers.
Others, by contrast, urge their colleagues not to worry yet. Igor Leshukov, director of the St. Petersburg-based Institute of Foreign Relations, warns against exaggerating the significance of the promises U.S. President George W. Bush gave Yushchenko. These promises, he notes, are conditional and linked with the fulfillment of concrete obligations taken by the Ukrainian government. “First, Ukraine will have to do its homework, and only after that it will be possible to talk about the realization of what had been promised [to Kyiv]” (see EDM, April 7).
According to still another school of thought, Russia will probably not achieve much even if it tries to use the political or economic leverage that it has. “The experience shows that we are simply incapable of preventing any one [from doing what one really wants]. If Ukraine joins NATO, we’ll have to swallow it,” argues Oleg Bogomolov, a veteran political analyst and former director of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies.
Some Ukrainian political scientists agree with Bogomolov’s analysis. “I don’t see any instruments or tools that Russia could or would like to use to exert pressure,” says Alexander Paskhaver, director of the Kyiv-based Center for Economic Development. True, Paskhaver continues, the Ukrainian and Russian economic systems are closely interconnected. But precisely because of this any pressure or economic blackmail will likely hurt Russia itself. “Such a development of events appears quite fantastic,” the Ukrainian scholar argues.
(UNIAN, April 5, Novye izvestiya, Vremya novostei, Kommersant, Vedomosti, Izvestiya, April 7)