Prague, June 27 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine is torn between
the desire to join the West and the burden of political and economic
realities that still bind it to the East. And there is no easy way
out of this dilemma.
The events of the last few days alone confirm this impression.
Speaking yesterday in the Polish parliament, Ukrainian President
Leonid Kuchma said that his country's "main foreign policy goal is to
gain full recognition as a Central European country." He added that
such a recognition would imply eventual acceptance into the major
European institutions, such as the European Union and the West
European Union -- a West European defense organization allied with
Kuchma emphasized that Ukraine has already made major steps toward
the West -- it has joined the NATO Partnership for Peace program and
has sought and gained acceptance to the Council of Europe. But he
also reminded his audience that Kyiv feels a pressing need to
consider in its policies interests of Russia, Ukraine's powerful
Seen from Moscow, Ukraine is still "near abroad" and many
influential Russian politicians seem to continue having mixed
feelings about Kyiv's separateness and sovereignty.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin has recently urged in a formal
report on Russia's national security the establishment of a
close-knit union between Russia Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. It
was to be rooted in the existing structure of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS). But to many Ukrainians, such a proposal
brings back memories of the old Moscow-centered international unity.
Responding to Yeltsin's report, Kuchma's chief of staff Dmytro
Tabachnyk said yesterday at a press conference in Kyiv that "Ukraine
is satisfied" with the existing set-up at the CIS and does not see
any need to change it. Tabachnyk implied that Yeltsin's suggestion
might have been prompted by electoral rather than strategic
Kyiv has consistently refused all attempts to strengthen links
between Moscow and other CIS members. Ukraine has regarded the CIS as
a relatively ineffective body.
Two days ago (June 25) the parliament in Kyiv voted a ban on foreign military bases on Ukraine's territory. The ban is to be included into a new constitution, which may be adopted by a nationwide referendum scheduled for the end of September. The measure will affect the future of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is headquartered in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol.
This is certain to fuel the long simmering tension between Ukraine
and Russia. This tension has recurrently surfaced, whether on the occasion of ethnic conflicts in the Crimean Republic or during protracted negotiations on economic relations.
Ukraine continues to depend heavily on Russian supplies of energy
resources and is still linked with Russia through a multitude of
other economic and trade links. And these links will certainly
continue in the years to come, not withstanding massive influx of aid
from the West -- Ukraine is the fourth largest recipient of U.S. aid and receives help from other Western countries as well -- these links with Russia may indeed even expand.
That fact alone makes long-term policy making difficult for Kyiv,
considerably narrowing its field of maneuver.
In many ways, this situation has been a constant factor in Ukrainian politics. The country has for many centuries been caught between other states. And this meant that it has been unable to develop its own political and economic base, and its own firm cultural identity.
Kuchma appears determined to throw away that burden of the past.
Speaking in Warsaw about Ukraine's drive to join the West, Kuchma
told the Polish parliamentarians that Kyiv's "choice is well
considered and final."
But this, in itself, does not make maneuvering to reach the goal any easier.