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Moving Forward In U.S.-Ukraine Relations

  • Borys Tarasyuk

Borys Tarasyuk

Borys Tarasyuk

I would like to congratulate Barack Obama on his decisive victory in the U.S. presidential election. His marathon campaign, which lasted 21 months, met with well-deserved success. I would also like to give his opponent, Senator John McCain, his due. In my opinion McCain did not succeed largely due to the disenchantment of Americans with the present administration.

Since gaining its independence 17 years ago, Ukraine has had bilateral relations with the United States. Both Republicans and Democrats have played roles in those relations. But what does the future hold for U.S.-Ukrainian relations as a new administration settles down in Washington?

If you ask any serious Ukrainian politician whether a Democrat or a Republican U.S. president is better for Ukraine, he or she will reply that ultimately there is really no great difference. And this is the truth.

Aside from the confusion surrounding President George Bush's 1991 "Chicken Kyiv" speech, which most likely was prompted by a desire to buck up Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev rather than a deep conviction that Ukraine should not be independent, the Unites States has always been aware of Ukraine's strategic importance in terms of the democratization of the post-Soviet space. This awareness has been convincingly demonstrated time and again during the last 17 years.

It happened that bilateral relations developed most dynamically during the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton. This is only natural: our young country was embarking on a new path of independent development. We were laying the foundations for reform in all spheres, and the support of the most powerful country on Earth was very important.

A pivotal moment came when Ukraine voluntarily agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees from the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom (later, from Germany and France as well). The 1993 trilateral declaration of the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom and the 1994 Budapest memorandum (signed by the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France) would have been impossible without strong U.S. support.

Even now, despite the aggressive behavior of one of the signatories, those documents continue to play a serious and positive role in the region.

During the 1990s, the work of the Kuchma-Gore Commission was a powerful impetus driving political and economic relations. Unfortunately, this work was halted by domestic problems in Ukraine stemming from President Leonid Kuchma's authoritarian regime, including incriminating recordings made in the president's office by his bodyguard and the sale of a Kolchuga radar system to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. These developments coincided with the beginning of the administration of Republican President George W. Bush and they had a negative impact on the development of bilateral relations.

A sort of uncertain stagnation lasted until the 2004-05 Orange Revolution, after which cooperation really did move onto a new and substantive plane. During the Bush years, Ukraine was granted market-economy status. We joined the World Trade Organization. We received invaluable U.S. support in our efforts to have the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine recognized as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.

Hopes For The Future

Today, the entire world is engulfed in a deep financial and economic crisis. At the same time, the ghosts of the Cold War haunt Europe. Under these circumstances, Ukraine and the United States are in a position to build upon their strategic partnership to their mutual benefit and to the benefit of others in the international community. Below, I would just mention a few arenas for expanded cooperation, and I hope the new president of the United States will hear my message.

First, I applaud Barack Obama's intentions to bring the conflict in Iraq to an end and thus free up U.S. foreign-policy resources for other challenges. I agree with those analysts who say the current threats in the Middle East pale in comparison with the potential dangers that arose within the Eurasian space during the course of the night of August 7-8 in South Ossetia.

Ukraine is ready to again contribute to an international security framework for the continent. It is no secret that Ukraine and the United States have worked closely on aspects of an effective antimissile system that would be a key defensive mechanism within the Euro-Atlantic collective-security space.

In addition, our common interests demand further and deeper coordinated action in implementing the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe; strengthening international nonproliferation regimes; improving global nuclear security; and combating the threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological terrorism.

Among European countries, Ukraine is the largest contributor of personnel and resources to UN peacekeeping operations. We are the only European country that is currently participating every single such mission. De facto, Ukraine is doing more today in the area of peacekeeping than some NATO members. But this work provides us with valuable experience and boosts the international authority of our country.

No discussion of security would be complete without mention of energy. Ukraine already hosts a vast network of energy-transport infrastructure. Now, the Odesa-Brody-Plotsk pipeline and the White Stream natural-gas pipeline are also in development. These projects -- built on Ukraine's key transit location and with the participation of the EU, the United States, and European and U.S. companies -- will realistically secure the diversification of energy supplies and transit routes for Western Europe.

As the global economic crisis unfolds and food prices continue to rise, Ukraine -- a key exporter of agricultural products -- is in a position to restore its onetime glory as the breadbasket of Europe. If Ukraine is able to create and implement an effective land-market system, opportunities for expanded cooperation in this area will be enormous.

This list can be continued, but these examples are sufficient to demonstrate the importance and potential of strengthened U.S.-Ukrainian ties. Despite the many things clamoring for his attention over the last two years, Barack Obama has found time to formulate and articulate positions on all of these issues. I am sure that, as president, he and his foreign-policy team (among which are many of my old colleagues and friends) will continue to demonstrate an interest in Ukraine and in cooperation with Kyiv. After all, our interests are deeply intertwined.

Borys Tarasyuk is a former Ukrainian foreign minister. A serving member of parliament, he is currently chairman of the parliamentary European Integration Committee. He also heads the Rukh political party. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL