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Yanukovych: Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West

Ukraine's President-elect Viktor Yanukovych writes in the Wall Street Journal that “Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West”:

Let me say here, a Yanukovych presidency is committed to the integration of European values in Ukraine. Ukraine should make use of its geopolitical advantages and become a bridge between Russia and the West. Developing a good relationship with the West and bridging the gap to Russia will help Ukraine. We should not be forced to make the false choice between the benefits of the East and those of the West. As president I will endeavor to build a bridge between both, not a one-way street in either direction. We are a nation with a European identity, but we have historic cultural and economic ties to Russia as well. The re-establishment of relations with the Russian Federation is consistent with our European ambitions. We will rebuild relations with Moscow as a strategic economic partner. There is no reason that good relations with all of our neighbors cannot be achieved.

Can Yanukovych bridge the gap between East and West? Will he even try, or is this article simply political posturing to console those concerned about his pro-Russia stance?

Yanukovych was the most pro-Russia candidate, and has quickly sought to improve ties with Russia; he already suggested the Russian Black Sea Fleet may stay in Ukrainian waters and made clear Ukraine will not seek NATO membership. Ukraine will however continue moving toward EU membership (Businessweek).

His rival in the campaign and a leader of the 2004 western-supported Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko refuses to concede, and has requested the high court in Ukraine overturn the election results – an outcome seen as highly unlikely.

President Obama, the EU and NATO have already sent congratulations to Yanukovych.

With Yanukovych ditching NATO and seeking to improve ties to Russia and EU membership, the United States is the biggest loser from Yanukovych’s election. This outcome should not come as a surprise however: popular support in Ukraine for NATO membership has been consistently at or below 30 percent over the past few years, making NATO membership never really likely anyhow (AR forecasted this here).

With NATO membership for Ukraine never likely anyhow, perhaps the US has not lost much. In fact, Ukraine relations with the West under Yanukovych may not be much different than it has been under the Orange Revolution leadership for a few reasons:

* Ukraine will likely continue to develop a partnership with NATO, though not membership;
* Ukraine will want pragmatic and productive relations with the United States, and still seeks EU membership;
The acceptance by international observers of Yanukovych's election and his intent to pursue EU membership both support the fact that while the Orange Revolution leadership has been voted out, the western values it respresented - a democratic and free society - are now embedded into Ukraine. 

Whether or not Yanukovich can balance between the West and Russia is tough to predict.  However, Yanukovich's intent to pursue this balance is likely a genuine aspiration.


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Pat Patterson on :

I can only hope that these were not the same observers that verified the results of the referendum and presidential vote in Venezuela. Also it's fairly irrelevant how Ukraine treats the status of the Russian Black Sea Fleet considering it is essentially confined to the Black Sea and cannot be reinforced as Turkey has blocked Russian movement except in a few extraordinary cases from transit through the Hellesponte.

Joe Noory on :

We can only take the Yanukovych government statement to be a press release intended to ameliorate the west after he turned east to be elected. I would suggest not taking these signals too seriously.

Marie Claude on :

Ukraine won't need to access to EU, until then EU will be a souvenir

Kyle Atwell on :

Hey Joe, I do wonder if this letter is to ameliorate the West after he turned east. At the same time, I wonder what actions he will take in this turning that will hurt the United States, other than not pursuing to join NATO? Ukraine/Yanukovich have more to benefit from putting Ukraine as a bridge between East and West -- that is, seeking a balance -- rather than becoming hostile to the US and blindly following Russia. My guess is that Ukraine will not become a Russian puppet, and neither doggedly focused on integrating West as Yuschenko was. Instead, he will want to keep all relationships positive.

Joe Noory on :

The statement comes at no cost to them, so its' motives and consequences aren't to be taken that seriously. Otherwise, Ukraine's physical positions is such that it can be nothing other than a Russian satellite, more than anyone to its' west. To not be a puppet (to use the rather dramatic term) is the riskier, more precarious position for a Ukrainian government to put itself in: while they stand a chance of appeasing Russian economic impacts/threats/etal, they stand a greater risk of either getting no support from the EU in the face of either: a) triangulation, or b) similar economic/proxy relations impact/threats/coersion/etal.

Pat Patterson on :

Possibly but in the last three or four years imports from Russia have dropped by over 50% and the price of petroleum products have risen to market rates. Russia just may not have any leverage, or any where near what it had before. But since most of Yankuvich's support comes from the Russian speaking east of the country he may have some local politics to deal with. Plus with a 10+ drop in GDP the Ukrainians simply may not have the money to make its military NATO compatible. And those upgraded T-90 tanks make Ukraine a lot of export dollars.

Pat Patterson on :

Why can't all these people have names like Smith or Jones. Yanukovych not whatever I typed randomly above.

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