As president-elect, George W. Bush is going to have to swiftly address a number of vital foreign policy questions.
A number of these are obvious, such as the escalating war in the Middle East, the emerging threat from China and the urgent need to defend the American people against ballistic missile attack.
Other decisions are perhaps less evident, but arguably no less momentous for long-term U.S. interests. Among these is the question of U.S. ties with one of the most important nations in Eurasia: Ukraine.
Since the end of the Cold War, Washington has mostly gotten it wrong on Ukraine, a freedom-loving nation of 55 million on the border of Russia.
Successive administrations have seen Ukrainian independence and sovereignty as an unwanted irritant to good relations with the Kremlin.
President George H.W. Bush voiced this infamous view in what came to be known as his “Chicken Kiev” speech of Aug. 1, 1991 an appeal to Ukraine to remain part of the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, after the Soviet Union’s demise, the Clinton-Gore team has persisted in the pursuit of a Moscow-centric approach to the former Soviet Union.
The only time during the past eight years that the United States has seriously engaged Ukraine was for the dubious purpose of securing its denuclearization. Otherwise, the United States has exhibited what can charitably be called “benign neglect” toward Ukraine and her people.
The effect has been to exacerbate problems for the Ukrainians at home and to make Kiev more susceptible to the combination of seductive overtures and threatening pressures emanating from Moscow.
The time has clearly come for a different approach. The Russia of Vladimir Putin is exhibiting behavior that is ever more problematic.
Among the most worrisome are Russia’s transfer to China of untold billions of dollars worth of advanced weapons, the Kremlin’s increasingly domineering behavior toward its neighbors, an unbridled hostility toward a free press and the persecution on trumped-up espionage charges of an innocent U.S. citizen, Edmond Pope.
Against the dark backdrop, the necessity of strengthening Ukraine as a counterweight to Russia is increasingly apparent.
Specifically, the next U.S. president should immediately set about forging a strategic partnership with Ukraine aimed at establishing a strong U.S. commitment to the latter’s independence, sovereignty and economic growth.
If the United States’ words are backed by deeds notably, political support, military cooperation, broadened trade opportunities and encouragement for U.S. investment in Ukraine and Ukraine’s integration into Europe the signal would be unmistakable: Russia can no longer feel free to engage in intimidation, coercion and other predations against its erstwhile colony.
For a new U.S.-Ukrainian strategic partnership to work, however, Kiev must be willing to undertake at long last genuine democratic political and free market reforms.
The rule of law an indispensable ingredient not only to individual freedoms but to real economic growth must be established and faithfully honored.
Among other things, the United States should make clear that the Ukrainian government must enact the sort of genuine privatization, property rights and other economic reforms needed to curb rampant corruption, facilitate and reward entrepreneurship and secure popular support for change.
If the next president makes a priority of pursuing such a strategic partnership with Ukraine, he can secure a bulwark against Russia’s emerging revanchism attempts to regain former territories by Mr. Putin or his successor. He may also be able to help effect a transformation in Ukraine that will enable her to become a force for the further flowering of individual rights and economic opportunity in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
On the other hand, in the event the next president fails to provide such visionary leadership, when the question is inevitably asked “Who lost Ukraine?” he may have to answer, “I did.” Given the current opportunity, that would be a shameful mea culpa for either Mr. Bush.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.