Prague, April 25 (RFE/RL) - Ukraine is increasingly turning toward the West, largely to counter Russian unifying pressures. "Our strategic aim is to become a full-fledged member of the European Union (EU)," Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma said two days ago in a speech to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.
He went on to tell the council that Kyiv plans to apply for associate membership in the union and called on the EU to speed up ratification of a partnership accord signed in 1994. The accord was to facilitate trade exchanges between Ukraine and EU members.
Kuchma's declaration has confirmed Kyiv's long-standing policy of rapprochement with Western political and economic institutions.
Last year, Ukraine accepted a so-called "individual partnership program" within NATO's Partnership for Peace. This considerably expanded cooperative ties between Kyiv and the western military alliance. Since that time, Ukrainian troops have taken part in NATO-organized military maneuvers.
Last November, Ukraine was admitted to the Council of Europe, the 39-nation body which set standards for monitoring democracy and human rights.
To a certain extent, Kyiv's pro-western policy has reflected Ukraine's recognition that it would not be able to cope with its manifold problems, particularly the economic ones, without substantial and continuing western help.
Last week alone, the International Monetary Fund, the major international financial institution largely funded by the west, agreed to provide Ukraine with a stand-by credit of about 900-million dollars to support economic reforms. Ukraine has also received considerable help from individual western countries. It is the third largest recipient of U.S. aid, behind Israel and Egypt.
But the dominant factor in Ukraine's pro-western stance is a drive to protect its independence. The country gained sovereignty following the collapse of the USSR. It has resisted recurrent pressures for some form of unification with and around Russia ever since.
Kyiv joined the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 1991 in a move dictated by political expediency. But it has resisted Russian attempts to develop the organization into an integrated political and military bloc, and has been determined to assert its independence within the CIS. While Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have recently reached an integrative accord, Ukraine has kept its distance from that move.
"The Ukrainian people have chosen independence," Kuchma told the Council of Europe, "we are going to follow that path. The CIS has not worked at all, other groupings will succeed it."
But Kyiv treads cautiously. While developing links to NATO, it is wary to abandon its non-aligned status. After meeting with NATO General Secretary Javier Solana last week, Kuchma told reporters in Kyiv that "Ukraine intends to move towards NATO, not into NATO."
Aware that it has no realistic chance of joining the western alliance in the foreseeable future, Ukraine has, nonetheless, accepted the inevitability of Nato's eastward expansion. But Kyiv has argued expansion should be gradual, and should take into account security interests of other countries in the region, that is its interests above all. This reflects concern that Ukraine could find itself squeezed between NATO and a Russia-dominated security alliance of post-Soviet states.
Kyiv seems to prefer a prolonged existence of a broad "grey sphere" between separate security systems, which would presumably include Central European countries and Ukraine itself. The longer that situation exists, the better it is for Ukraine, as it increases its chances of effective rapprochement with the West, with which it will continue to expand various cooperative contacts.