- - Friday, September 13, 2013

Ukraine yearns to forswear Russia for Europe

Geopolitics and international politics should be considered realistically. Utopianism, childish optimism and idealism have often led to historical catastrophes. One of the most remarkable examples is the “pacifying” approach toward Nazi Germany during the 1930s implemented by Western countries. Those policies of appeasement contributed significantly to the onset of World War II.

Today, we see that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration toward Russia is failing as well. Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues to act aggressively; the Russian opposition is persecuted; the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the sovereign republic of Georgia continue to be occupied by Russian military forces; Russia continues to act as a global provocateur, supplying sophisticated arms to Syria and Iran; and, of course, Mr. Putin continues to assert himself regionally as he pursues long-term plans to regain control over the former Soviet sphere. Russia is desperately trying to restore the Soviet Union under a new brand called the “Eurasian Economic Union” (also known as the “Customs Union”).

Ukraine is a primary target for inclusion in Mr. Putin’s plan for Russian expansion. Indeed, Russia’s empire-enlargement plans cannot be complete without Ukraine’s submission.

Ukraine’s ongoing effort to achieve membership status in the European Union is a direct hazard for the Kremlin. The clearest evidence of that occurred during the Russian president’s last visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. After a 15-minute protocol meeting with Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, Mr. Putin departed to attend a conference of the pro-Russian, Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is openly hostile to Ukraine’s Euro-integration course. Mr. Putin spoke about the advantages of the Customs Union in contrast to the European Union. He declared, “Ukraine’s economy can be competitive only if it unites with the Russian one.” However, Ukraine’s economy is not all that is at stake.

The signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement — scheduled for late November in Vilnius, Lithuania, at the EU Eastern Partnership Summit — represents the will of the Ukrainian people to remove their country from the sphere of Kremlin influence and to finally break from the totalitarian heritage of the Soviet Union. It also signals their desire to forge a new direction toward the Free World and to Western structures of security and democracy.

To do my part toward the fulfillment of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, I have initiated a series of nationwide round tables involving civil society, the government and the opposition. These round-table sessions are designed to forge a consensus across the political spectrum to ensure that Ukraine takes appropriate actions and signs the European Union Association Agreement at the Vilnius summit. All hopes hinge on signing this agreement.

A strong, democratic, European Ukraine is needed by the West. Unfortunately, Western political leaders do not always understand Ukraine’s importance. The geopolitical realities of the post-Soviet environment leave only two countries ready for regional leadership: Ukraine and Russia.

These realities have been confirmed by a thousand years of history. A European Ukraine is the perfect means by which to change the geopolitics of the whole former Soviet Union. Economic, informational and family ties between Russia and Ukraine can become the main channels of democratization for Russia. A successful Ukraine will become a magnet and the basis for all post-Soviet countries willing to change.

As part of the Budapest Memorandum signed by Ukraine, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States on Dec. 5, 1994, Ukraine agreed to adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to dismantle all nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory. The signatories of that memorandum promised to respect the independence, sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and to abstain from any means of aggression toward Ukraine, including economic pressure.

Ukraine has fulfilled its obligations under the Budapest Memorandum, but currently stands alone against Russia’s economic and political pressure. However, I do not blame the West. Until now, the West has not had an honest and predictable partner in Ukraine, and this is fully exploited by the opponents of Euro-integration.

I hope that a responsible team of focused, pragmatic European politicians will soon come to power in Kiev, and the West will understand that a truly free and independent Ukraine will serve as a key for stability in the post-Soviet environment. The United States must play a crucial role in this process. A new strategic partnership treaty between the United States and Ukraine, including the fields of defense, security, economy and energy should have been signed long ago. In contrast to many European elites, American politicians are free from the influence of the Russian energy monopolies and, therefore, are more capable of independently evaluating the situation regarding Ukraine and Russia.

I am reminded of the words of Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski: “Ukraine is the country that can influence Russia’s evolution. At the same time, Ukraine is the country which, in some historical moment was and is to be a part of Europe. If Ukraine as a real democracy will be moving in the direction of the West, to my mind, there is a big chance that Russia will follow.”

Sergii Bondarchuk is a former member of the Ukrainian parliament.