Non-Bloc Status Covers Ukraine’s Shift to Russian-Vector Orientation

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 99

Opening, alongside Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, the Interstate Commission’s session, Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, turned the clock back to 1990. Invoking that year’s declaration of Ukraine’s sovereignty (still within the USSR), Yanukovych selectively underscored the document’s stipulation of “non-bloc status” for Ukraine. The country can now “finally achieve this goal,” he declared (UNIAN, May 17).

This statement implies more than repudiating the hypothesis of NATO membership. Ukraine’s new authorities have already done that, both declaratively and by disbanding the two state commissions that used to handle Ukraine-NATO cooperation programs. Going back to 1990, however, implicitly overrides Ukraine’s existing constitution, which dropped the “non-bloc” clause, so as to open the way toward joining NATO. Yanukovych’s statement also reflects Moscow’s and his own government’s view, that “non-bloc” is fully compatible with hosting Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory for decades to come.

Moscow apparently regards Ukraine’s “non-bloc” position as applying only toward NATO, but not toward the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In his speech at Kyiv state university, Medvedev declared that Ukraine’s non-bloc position was perfectly acceptable to Russia at present. “But life does change, and if Ukraine decides to join the CSTO in the future, we would be happy to open the door for you, and welcome you into our ranks” (President of the Russian Federation website, May 19).

Medvedev’s reference to CSTO’s open door sounds like a taunt to NATO’s eponymous, failing policy in Ukraine.

In a concluding statement on European security, Yanukovych joins Medvedev in pledging to promote a new security system for all states in the Euro-Atlantic space, along the lines of Medvedev’s 2009 proposals to create a structure superordinate to NATO. As a distinct feature related to Ukraine, the joint statement includes a call for security “guarantees to non-bloc countries and those that voluntarily gave up their nuclear arsenals” (Interfax, May 17).

This seems to presage Kyiv’s own contribution to promoting Moscow’s proposals from now on. Relegated to a grey zone between NATO and Russia, the Ukrainian government can from its own perspective feel justified supporting Russia’s proposals to create a structure above NATO, if those proposals would on paper “guarantee” the security of “non-bloc” Ukraine.

Following the summit, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Ukraine Security Service (SBU) initiated an unprecedented program of joint activities. Meeting on May 19 in Odessa the chairmen of FSB and SBU, Aleksandr Bortnikov and Valery Khoroshkovsky, signed a framework document for cooperation on a wide range of issues, to be detailed in compartmentalized agreements. The public announcement singles out “economic and industrial counter-intelligence, as well as protection of Russian and Ukrainian technologies on the internal markets [of the two countries]” (Interfax-Ukraine, May 19).

This aspect of cooperation seems related to the planned entry of Russian capital into Ukrainian industries and creation of joint enterprises there. Khoroshkovsky himself has had long-standing connections with Russian business in the metallurgical and energy sectors.

A separate protocol, signed at the same meeting, provides for the return of Russian FSB military counter-intelligence officers to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea (Interfax-Ukraine, May 19). Those officers’ presence had all along contravened CIS-wide agreements that prohibit FSB operations on the territories of CIS member countries. In 2009, Ukraine ordered FSB officers attached to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to leave Ukraine’s territory.

Ukraine is one of the founding countries of the CIS, but has never ratified procedure of the CIS charter, and is thus not a full-fledged member. The new government’s minister of foreign affairs, Kostyantin Hryshchenko, has stated more than once since taking office that Ukraine can participate in CIS activities without ratifying the charter and does therefore not intend to do ratify it. The ministry’s new spokesman, Oleh Voloshyn, however, retreated from that position in the wake of Medvedev’s visit, telling the media: “If we see that some really important issues cannot be resolved without being a [full] member and without ratifying the charter, we will consider this, of course” (Interfax-Ukraine, May 19).

This statement typifies the new Ukrainian authorities’ proclivity to put leverage in Moscow’s hand, in advance of any negotiation, by displaying their sense of Ukraine’s vulnerability. Thus, Yanukovych and his government have advertised their fear of Gazprom’s South Stream pipeline project, inviting Russia’s entry into Ukraine’s gas transit system, as a price for lifting South Stream’s alleged bypass threat. Emboldened, Putin and Gazprom have raised the pressure by demanding an outright “merger,” rather than shared control. Similarly, Medvedev felt emboldened in Kyiv to raise the prospect of a shift from Ukraine’ non-bloc status to entry into the CSTO.

By all appearances, the Ukrainian president and government feel that they must deal with Russia one-on-one, in the absence of Western involvement, which could steady the Ukrainian authorities’ nervous hand. Far from the anticipated two-vector policy, Kyiv has drifted far into a single-vector policy toward Russia.