6 April 2010

Ukraine’s Elections: The Iron Curtain Gives Way to NATO Expansion - Ozer CETINKAYA

Ukraine’s elections will be remembered as the first disaster for the glasnost policy NATO enacted regarding human rights and democracy. Above all, it must be seen as the first setback for NATO expansion ever since it began. Since 2001 NATO's expansion towards Russia’s borders has been blocked at the Dnieper River. Ukraine has taken on the historical role that was played by Germany after 1945 due to its objective conditions. The borders of the Eurasian bloc formed with Moscow’s leadership have now been established on the Dnieper River. The ongoing retreat since the fall of the Soviet Union has been stopped. Either a new ceasefire will occur, or else a conclusive peace treaty will be signed.

This is because Ukraine can be spoken of as two regions, eastern and western. This perspective’s historical roots go back to the eighteenth century. In the eighteenth century the Dnieper served as the border between the Orthodox Russian Czardom and the Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire. The western region was influenced by the Austro-Hungarians, absorbed Central European culture and was Catholicized. The eastern region fell under Russian dominion and was entirely Russian and Orthodox in character. The depth of this relationship is expressed in an old Russian proverbs that says, “Moscow is our heart, St. Petersburg is our brain and Kiev is our mother.” This context makes it possible to say that there is an undeniable historical bond between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukrainian power allied with the West represents a break with Russia and a rapprochement with the US and NATO. From Russia’s perspective, the loss of Ukraine from its geography would be worse than the loss of any other nation. With its population of nearly 50 million and its vast steppes, Ukraine is both Russia’s door to the West and its first line of defense. Moreover, it is a critical valve for getting Russian hydrocarbon resources to Europe.

If Ukraine were in NATO, it would be the key to the West keeping Russia under its control. For the Transatlantic bloc to keep Russia from once again becoming a threat winning the Ukraine is a necessity. Anyway, this is what the Orange Revolution was about. Fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the perspective of NATO, meaning the US, since it was impossible to take control of the Ukraine by force, new arguments in the name of democracy and human rights were used to effect regime change.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, as soon as the Russian motherland was put back in order it began to push against its old borders. Realizing that a Ukraine allied with Western power had escaped its control, Russia did not hesitate to use the strategic trump card of “energy” against its former back yard, Ukraine. On the other side, after the Orange Revolution the natural gas crises that began in 2006 and were repeated intermittently afterwards were in reality not the basic problem with relation between Russia and the Ukraine, but the reflection of much deeper problems. On the eve of 2006 their bilateral relations were worsened much more by the natural gas price hikes directed at the Ukraine by Russia’s Gazprom and then the natural gas embargo on Ukraine.

To understand relations between Russia and the Ukraine we also need to give an account of Ukraine’s relations with NATO. The main theme of the tension was created by NATO expansion toward the Russian motherland. While the fact that NATO expansion heralded a basic threat to its security did not escape the Kremlin, a NATO aligned government in Kiev was called a national security threat.

Relations with NATO

Ukraine’s integration into European and Atlantic security structures and the permanent conversion of its national security system became inseparable targets. However, with the last elections Russia managed to stick the Slavic sword right in the middle of this target.

For NATO two driving forces are to be found behind this target. One of them was Ukraine’s national interests. The other is relations between NATO and the Ukraine. Today the threat faced by Ukraine is not who will attack them, but who will try to weaken them. Understanding this well, over the last four years the Ukrainian people have watched the weakening of their pro-Western government and have changed their direction. This basic point caused the pro-Westerners to lose the elections, along with these factors:

a) political instability
b) economic collapse
c) the US and NATO’s failure to deliver on their promises
d) deepening social disappointment

Reforms were stumbling due to clashes of interest and economic realities, and yet gradually being realized. Ukraine had been participating in the Partnership for Peace planning and review process since the beginning (1994). Initially the focus was more on the units to be allocated to the PfP activities led by NATO. However in 2000, Ukraine decided to use this planning tool for the purpose of supporting defense reform. For NATO the most important obstacles to the progress of the reforms were seen as existing resources and armed forces not falling under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. Moreover powerful NATO members within the EU, such as Germany and France, kept Ukraine on its toes in order to protect their relationships with Russia. This led to deep social disappointment and the people chose to get closer to Russia.

Interdependence on issues such as energy, terrorism and radicalism also motivates Russia and NATO member nations to negotiate on points of contention. Thus it can be said that the biggest obstacle to a new cold war is both security and energy interdependence between actors. On the other hand, it should be remembered that there is a limit to the interdependence between these parties. The Russian Minister of Defense at the time, Sergey Ivanov, looked his American colleagues in the eye during the NATO expansion meeting in Istanbul and drew these limits by saying, “NATO expansion poses a bigger potential for conflict than the Cold War.”

NATO realizes that it is not facing the old Russia. However, the US and England, in particular, have not managed to overcome their mood of distrust towards cooperation with Russia. Russia is not an enemy, but not yet an ally either. The parties are suspicious of one another. The main factor that will determine the relationship from now on is this suspicion.

The Kremlin’s Steps

Along with the presidency, the formation of the government under the semi-presidential system is important, too. The Regions Party led by Yanukovych has already started negotiations with almost all the other parties represented in parliament in order to form a new coalition government. The Regions Party might form a new coalition with the Our Ukraine Party founded by former President Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the Orange Revolution. This is because many MPs that have little chance of being reelected should be expected to support this government in the case of a new parliamentary election. A new parliamentary election does not seem possible for Ukraine, at least for another year. After the formation of a new government, Russia-Ukraine relations should be expected to normalize. The first step towards normalization is the Kremlin's immediate assignment of an ambassador to the open position in Kiev. Next, Russian economic aid will begin to flow to Ukraine. The basis of this aid will again be energy. Ukraine will receive incremental investments from Russian corporations. Energy collaboration will increase Europe’s dependency on Russia. With the elimination of the Ukraine problem, European countries will reduce their interest and support for the NABUCCO project. In return for all this, Russia will grant strategically advantageous treaties to the Ukrainian government. NATO collaboration with Ukraine will be abolished if possible, or else put in deep freeze. Black Sea security is a card that Russia will play. With the new mentality Kiev warming towards the BLACKSEAFOR to which Russia and Turkey attribute great importance, Georgia will face policy of isolation in the Black Sea.

The New Capital, Donetsk

Yanukovych is generally considered to be on the Russian side, while Tymoshenko is thought to be on the Western side. However, it should be taken into account that in recent years this assessment has begun to lose its validity, since although they seem to be opposed, both sides make sure to wink at the global circles. It is true that Yanukovych gives priority to relations with Russia. He declared that if he is elected commerce with Russia will increase from 13 million to 40 million dollars. However, he also used the slogan: "Neither the EU nor Russia, the goal is the whole world.” Of course, this slogan was created in order to win votes in the western regions. According to Yanukovych, his country can act as a bridge between the EU and the CIS nations. He also claims that Russian should be the second national language. For this he uses the slogan: "two languages, one nation.” If he is elected it will be seen what he will do about it, and what reaction he
will get. Meanwhile, and again, if he is elected, he has made domestic political promises such as five years of tax exemptions for small businesses and the provision of government aid for families with low incomes and high numbers of children. Yanukovych has assigned special importance toward using economics during his term, since he got the majority of his votes in the eastern region. The center of this region can said to be Donetsk where he served as governor. This region is also the heart of the Ukrainian economy. It is often said that Yanukovych has the support of the richest businessman in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov. The owner of the SCM Holdings, established in Donetsk, Akhmetov is of Tatar origin and is among the most powerful men in Ukraine. It is known that he is also politically influential. He is also associated with Turkish businessmen that have close relationships with the Turkish government. This will bring different options for Ukraine’s economic development during Yanukovych's term. With this structure, Donetsk might begin to function as the real capital of Ukraine.

Tymoshenko’s Path

In an article published in Newsweek, Tymoshenko stated that the economic crisis brought Ukraine and Russia closer together. According to her, after the global crisis, Russia began to realize its "responsibilities arising from the past" towards its neighbors. During her term as prime minister, she cancelled the privatization of the steel giant, Kirvozihstal, which had been sold to Akhmetov for 800 million dollars and later facilitated its sale to India’s steel giant, Mittal Steel, for 4.79 billion dollars. The likelihood of this situation changing during Yanukovych's term is uncertain, but Russia’s weight will become more evident in Ukrainian politics.

The Status of Crimea

Ukraine is also important to Russia for its Crimean Peninsula and the Russian naval base located there. Ukraine is an indispensable port for the Russian fleet, which generally uses Ukraine to exit into the Black Sea. Although Russia has started building a new marine base in order to overcome its dependency on Sevastopol, it will certainly remain dependent on Ukraine in this area. Historically, the Russian population in the Crimean Peninsula and the Russian minority living in the country as a whole is a leading factor highlighting Ukraine in Russian international politics.

With the loss of Yushchenko, the support Crimea’s Tatars have had since the Orange Revolution will disappear. If parliamentary elections are held soon it seems that it will be impossible for the only Tatar representative in Kiev, Mustafa Cemilov, to be reelected. It is obvious that Tatars that have been denied their rights to autonomy, and losing their only representation in the Rada will generate support for the rising Wahhabi Islamists. This will increase tensions in Crimea. Moscow will certainly use its influence in Kiev in the case of a conflict involving the dominant Russian population in Crimea. Ukraine is actually a place where cold war never ended. "Ukraine" means "border country," and continued its historical role as a field for struggle between the West and the East. Today however, it is emerging as the new Iron Curtain blocking NATO expansion.


Probable effects of the election’s outcome:

1. The Ukraine’s relationship with NATO will be in deep freeze.
2. Relations between Russia and Ukraine will be improved.
3. Russia’s military presence in Crimea will be increased, which will in turn increase its activities in the Black Sea.
4. Georgia will face a policy of isolation in the Black Sea.
5. Europe’s dependency on Russian energy will be increased.
6. Europe interest and support for the NABUCCO project will be diminished.
7. Moscow will help Ukraine to improve its economy. In exchange treaties involving strategic advantages will be signed.
8.Russia will support the modernization of the Ukrainian army for the sake of NATO’s complete withdrawal.
9. NATO expansion will shift towards the Pacific.
10. Moscow will attempt to advance its defense lines towards the West.

No comments:

Post a Comment