Publication: Prism Volume: 4 Issue: 15

By Oleg Varfolomeyev

Ukraine was instrumental in breaking up the Soviet Union back in 1991, when its parliament proclaimed independence immediately after the abortive August coup in Moscow. Although it was a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, its leadership has never regarded this “new old community” as an instrument of re-integration, let alone reunification, as is the case with Belarus, or political expansion, which seems to be Russia’s aim. For Ukraine, which officially remains only an associate member of the CIS, from the very beginning, it has been a means of civilized divorce.

Instead of pursuing CIS integration, Ukraine has concluded bilateral agreements with CIS member states and joined unions of interest, such as GUAM, a union of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, which emerged at the end of last year.

Ever since Leonid Kravchuk was elected president in 1991, Ukraine has been pursuing the goal of integration into the Western world. Ukraine’s activity in this direction got a new boost with its second president, Leonid Kuchma, who made the course towards European and Transatlantic integration (initially euphemisms for the EU and NATO, apparently invented so as not to trouble the jealous Russian bear in the north and not to overexcite the staunchly anti-Western Ukrainian leftists) the priority of his foreign policy.

But while scorning the CIS, Ukraine rather soon became painfully aware that the European Community is in no hurry to open doors to this stranger from the east.

Kuchma’s pathetic pronouncement last summer, made during a visit to Ukraine by Belgian Premier Jean Luc Dehaene, is typical of Ukraine’s attitude: “The European Union should pay more attention to its relations with Ukraine, since we have fulfilled many conditions that international organizations requested, from decommissioning nuclear arms to closing the Chernobyl nuclear plant.”(1)

Ukraine has much to do before its “European dream” can come true; it must make progress in its economic and administrative reforms, tame its bureaucracy, curb corruption, and improve the investment climate. But meanwhile, largely neglecting the CIS, apparently overestimating the prospects of Black Sea Cooperation Group and Baltic-Black Sea cooperation, and missing the European train, Ukraine risks dropping out of the process of economic globalization.