Ukraine headed for NATO

05/ 05/ 2006

MOSCOW. (Alexei Makarkin for RIA Novosti) - The speech made by U.S. Vice
President Richard Cheney at the Baltic and Black Sea Summit in Vilnius has
shown that the United States is ready for a continued complication of
relations with Russia.

The U.S. goal is to keep expanding in the former Soviet space, which can
blow up the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The CIS policies have been traditionally influenced by Russia, but the
situation started changing several years ago. The Community of Democratic
Choice established last year includes three CIS states - Ukraine, Georgia
and Moldova. Their leaders attended the Vilnius summit alongside the new
NATO members - the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian leader Mikhail
Saakashvili reaffirmed their pro-Western course. Yushchenko said his country
hoped to become an associated member of the European Union and to join NATO,
but that calm statement was as unpleasant to Russia as the emotional attacks
by Saakashvili.

Georgia, which has not settled the Abkhazian or South Ossetian problems,
cannot be admitted to NATO because of this. Ukraine's position is somewhat
different. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in late April: "All of
NATO's 26 member-nations support Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration, both
politically and practically, and the [Sevastopol] base issue will not stop
this."

Ukraine's access to the Alliance is hindered by the presence of the armed
forces of a non-member on its territory. However, the U.S. and many other
NATO states, primarily those that represent "New Europe," may disregard this
principle because they want Ukraine to join the bloc as soon as possible.

The West seems unsure that Kiev's pro-Western choice has become
irreversible. Verbal encouragement of Ukrainian regime's policies and
criticism of Moscow, such as made by Cheney in Vilnius, seem insufficient.
The West may use the political opportunities offered by Yushchenko's
pro-Western government, especially because experts forecast that the next
Ukrainian government will be pro-Western too. In a word, Ukraine may be
admitted to NATO in 2008-2010.

This will come as a major shock for Russia, and not only because the Kremlin
regards the post-Soviet space as its sphere of influence - this is why it
reacted so strongly when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said
Russians should "recognize that we have legitimate interests and
relationships with countries that are in their neighborhood even if those
countries were once part of the Soviet Union."

Moscow cannot prohibit the United States to operate in these countries, but
the two states pursue opposite goals in Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and
Moldova. Therefore, the strengthening of the U.S. stand there is fraught
with increased rivalry between them.

Moreover, Slavic and predominantly Orthodox Ukraine had been incorporated
into Russia in the 17th century, and Russians cannot imagine it joining a
bloc that is regarded negatively in Russia. For decades NATO had been in
stark confrontation with the Soviet Union, and its break-up did not improve
Russians' attitude to it because of the 1999 war in Yugoslavia.

They mistrust the Alliance's claim that it has become a purely political
organization. The admission of the Baltic countries to NATO alarmed mostly
the Russian establishment, because the general public in the Soviet Union
had regarded them as "Western" republics. But Ukraine's accession will most
certainly provoke sharp anti-Western sentiments in the Russian elite and the
public. The psychological injury will fan the siege mentality, which is only
a step away from another, though slightly different, cold war.

The U.S. is ready to take the risk because the Bush administration fears the
growing influence of Russia in Europe. The swelling capitalization of
state-owned energy giant Gazprom and Russia's increasing economic
independence, including active repayment of foreign debts, the growth of
gold and international reserves, and the accumulation of the Stabilization
Fund, may strengthen the Kremlin's foreign policy ambitions. This is why the
U.S. has opted for a highly risky strategy of "pre-emptive deterrence" in
regard to Russia, with the key part assigned to the Euro-Atlantic
integration of Ukraine.

Alexei Makarkin is deputy director general of the Center for Political
Technologies.