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Analysis: Kyiv's New Security Map

  • Paul Goble



Washington, July 26 (RFE/RL) -- As Ukraine approaches its fifth anniversary as an independent state, Ukrainian elites have formed a remarkably textured and sophisticated map of their security interests and concerns.

A USIA-commissioned poll of 751 members of the Ukrainian political elite found that senior Ukrainian officials see Russia as Ukraine's major political problem because so many Russians want Ukraine to join Russia in a Moscow-dominated superstate.

But at the same time, relatively few Ukrainians believe that the Russian Federation or any other former Soviet republic might attack Ukraine during the next five years.

The poll also showed that approximately 50 percent of the elite are worried about regional separatism in their country, with four out of ten suggesting that Crimea, which many Russians claim as part of the Russian Federation, is the most significant threat. But two out of three are in favor of granting, after negotiations, a long-term lease to Russia of a base in that region.

And the poll indicated that Ukrainian elites, while united on the question of a nuclear-free status for their country, are divided almost evenly between those who believe Ukraine should become a member of NATO (50 percent) and those who oppose it (43 percent).

Three things are striking about the results:

First, after a shaky start in which Ukrainians had either unrealistic fears about Russia or equally unrealistic expectations about the West, Kyiv's political elites have formed a nuanced foreign policy vision typical of a more experienced national government.

Second, the Ukrainian elite continues to focus on foreign policy issues--the poll found few "don't knows" or "no opinion"--and to look not only to Washington and Moscow but also toward Ukraine's neighbors. Those interviewed specifically noted Ukraine's good relations with Germany, Turkey, and most other neighbors.

And third, the continuing concern of Ukrainian elites about the possibility of separatism in Crimea or elsewhere is not accompanied by fears of the neighbors, rather by an appreciation of the need to resolve such problems by negotiations with foreign countries and a carefully crafted policy toward the regions in Kyiv.

Five years ago, Ukraine's national security elite was more a hopeful dream than a reality. Now, Ukraine, a country the size of France--as its leaders like to say--is acquiring the personnel, the skills and the experience to be a serious player in international affairs.

While the formation of such an elite will not solve all problems, this step is a major one, which, along with the adoption of a constitution, means that Ukrainian presidents will not in the future have to "reassert" Ukrainian independence as Leonid Kuchma did recently.

Instead, they will have to talk about what Ukraine, a country whose independence is simply part of the furniture of international relations, wants from the world.

At that point, Ukraine won't be without problems either at home or abroad. But the ones it will have will be more like those of other countries, just like the security map of the Ukrainian elite has become.
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