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Russia without Ukraine is a country;
Russia with Ukraine is an empire.

Ukraine-Russian Relations - 2005-2010 - Yushchenko

Through the end of the Kuchma era, patronage politics had dominated Ukraine's political scene; people voted for candidates they believed would provide direct benefits, and oliticians sought office and connections primarily for division of the spoils. The Orange Revolution ushered in an era of charismatic politics, a large but only partial step away from the patronage model, to which Regions was still firmly wedded. Ukraine's weakness, was an absence of programmatic politics and clear party platforms. Most Ukrainian parties remained associated with their dominant personalities rather than policies or ideologies: Yushchenko (Our Ukraine), Tymoshenko (Batkivshchyna, Tymoshenko Bloc), Yanukovych (Party of Regions), Lytvyn (People's Party), Moroz (Socialists), Vitrenko (Progressive Socialists). The Communists were perhaps the only exception, but they had no future.

The Orange Revolution and the election of Viktor Yushchenko as President in 2004 reopened Ukraine's stalled drive towards Europe. The government declared Euro-Atlantic integration to be its primary foreign policy objective and has sought to maintain good relations with Russia. Relations with Russia are complicated by differing foreign policy priorities in the region, energy dependence, payment arrears, disagreement over compliance with the 1997 agreement on the stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, and a dispute over bilateral boundaries in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Ukraine was a founding member of GUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova) and has taken the lead with Georgia to promote cooperation among emerging democracies in the Community for Democratic Choice, which held its first summit meeting December 1-2, 2005 in Kyiv.

Ukraine controls the gas pipelines on its territory that are also used to transit Russian gas to Western Europe. The complex relationship between supplier, transporter, and consumer has led to some tensions, including Russia's decision to cut off gas supplies for three days in January 2006 and for three days in March 2008. The "orange" print media (Ukraina Moloda, Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Vechernie Vesti, etc) portrayed the Russian policy as an attempt to punish Ukraine for a 2004 presidential election that contradicted Moscow's will.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was strident in his support of Georgia since the Russian incursion there in August 2008. He traveled to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to demonstrate that support for his close friend, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. After Russian Black Sea Fleet vessels sailed from their home port of Sevastopol on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula to attack the Georgian harbor at Poti and land troops there, Yushchenko ordered tighter restrictions on Russian ship movements in Ukrainian territorial waters. That, coupled with a Ukrainian offer to discuss the integration of its early-warning missile systems with the West, further enraged Moscow. Many Ukrainian and foreign politicians, diplomats, and analysts believe Crimea could provide the flashpoint for a future conflict.

After Yushchenko came to power in 2004, he and Saakashvili -- both brought to power by colored revolutions -- have developed very close ties based on their common desire to join NATO and find alternative sources of oil and gas through the GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) regional alliance in order to lessen both countries' dependence on Russia. But neither of these two strategic goals has been achieved so far. NATO has not offered a Membership Action Plan to either Kyiv or Tbilisi, while the GUAM grouping, which initially also included Armenia, seems to be standing idle, if not falling apart.

Russia wanted to be the monopoly supplier of gas in Europe. For Russia, the ultimate goal remains pipelines that runs directly to Europe interrupted by potentially quarrelsome post-Soviet neighbors. South Stream is projected to run from Russia's Black Sea coast to Italy via Bulgaria and Greece, crossing Ukraine's continental shelf but bypassing its soil. Arguably greater hopes are invested in Nord Stream, which is designed to pipe gas directly from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. The Germans are actively assisting Russia in this. The long-stalled Nabucco project proposes to pipe gas from Central Asian and Azerbaijani suppliers directly to Europe via Turkey, and is seen as a direct competitor to South Stream.

Ukraine was the only gas transit system Russia did not control -- and they wanted it. Russia's Gazprom has been raising the price of Russian gas for Ukraine sharply since 2005, and that pushed Ukraine's trade and current accounts into deficit. Prime Minister Tymoshenko signed a memorandum in October 2008 with Prime Minister Putin which contained two key features: direct contracts, no intermediaries, and a gradual structured transition to international economically justified prices.

After a year of bilateral irritations over natural gas, Georgia, NATO, the Holodomor and other issues, no one was in the mood to negotiate gas prices by December 2008. When Yushchenko and Tymoshenko began to play the negotiations for their own political advantage, the situation became emotional - in Moscow as well as in Kyiv - and Moscow overreacted. The December 2008 - January 2009 gas crisis, referred to Ukrainians as the gas "war," was the latest episode in a general downward trend in Ukrainian-Russian relations over the course of the past year. The gas dispute led to a frosty two-week cutoff in gas supplies in January 2010. The final contract was negotiated by Tymoshenko in Moscow on 19 January 2009. Ukraine and Russia signed a 10-year contract on natural-gas supplies and transit, which ended the latest energy dispute between the two countries. The EU would continue to receive one-quarter of its gas supplies from Russia -- and four-fifths of that via pipelines in Ukraine -- just as it did before the feud began.

President Yushchenko, the Defense Minister and many others in the Ukrainian elite attributed the crisis to geopolitics, particularly Russia's desire to assert its regional dominance. The political elite seemed to have reached consensus that only an emotional overreaction in Moscow could have led to a cutoff to Europe as well as to Ukraine. (Reftel describes Ukrainian views of Russia's role in the actual cut off of supplies.) Russia's primary objective, Ukrainian leaders believe, was to discredit Ukraine as a reliable partner, and gain commercial and political control of Ukraine's gas transit system. Prominent experts and observers highlight the importance of Putin's personal enmity toward Yushchenko; in particular, they note the irritant of Yushchenko's outspoken criticism of Russian military actions against Georgia. Prime Minister Tymoshenko has portrayed the outcome as a victory for Ukraine and emerged as someone with whom Putin could cut a deal.

The gas crisis was cast against the background of a year of growing tension in Ukrainian-Russian relations and the politicization of the bilateral relationship in the domestic power struggle between Yushchenko, PM Tymoshenko, and Party of Regions leader Yanukovich. While initial reaction from Yushchenko and his administration focused on criticizing the final contract negotiated by Tymoshenko, this position evolved. During his January 26-28 meetings with European Commission President Barroso in Brussels and in Poland with President Kaczinsky and Czech Minister for Foreign Affairs Topolanek, Yushchenko made clear that Ukraine would abide by the contract, despite what he sees as its disadvantages for Ukraine. On January 28, Yushchenko referred to the "myths cranked out by the Russian government or Gazprom", and noted Russian geopolitics were behind the gas crisis. "Gas means politics, while large amounts of gas mean big politics," he said, continuing that Russia's actions appeared to be aimed at discrediting Ukraine and obtaining political and commercial control of the Ukrainian gas system.

By late 2009 Russian actions had spurred a public discussion within the Ukrainian elite about Russian intentions toward Ukraine. The most systematic contribution to the debate has been made by former National Security Advisor Volodymyr Horbulin, who believed that internal Russian considerations were pushing Russia toward a confrontation with Ukraine prior to the expiration of the Black Sea Fleet basing agreement in 2017. Some echoed and even amplified Horbulin's sense of alarm; others have downplayed the risk of armed conflict while remaining concerned about the general trajectory of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The overall impression is that Russian military action against Ukraine, while still unlikely, was no longer unthinkable.

Russian President Medvedev's 11 August 2009 letter to Ukrainian President Yushchenko, followed by the September 9 passage by the Russian Duma of the first reading of a draft amendment to the Law on Defense, expanding authority for Russian forces to be deployed abroad, generated a high-profile public discussion about the parlous state of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The day after the Duma's action, an open letter by 29 Ukrainian intellectuals and public figures, including former President Kravchuk, took Russia to task for allegedly disregarding Ukrainian sovereignty and trying to interfere in Ukraine's foreign-policy and security choices. "For the first time in many years," the authors warned, "there are signs that the Kremlin is not excluding the use of force from its arsenal of foreign-policy instruments toward Ukraine."

Still more noteworthy were two long articles in consecutive issues of "Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" ("Weekly Mirror") 12 and 19 September 2009 on Russia and Ukraine co-authored by Volodymyr Horbulin, currently Director of the Institute of National Security Issues and formerly National Security Advisor to President Kuchma. After a lengthy analysis of Russian politics, Horbulin concluded that various ideological and domestic factors "are forcing the Kremlin to make the extraordinarily dangerous and risky wager on Russian imperialist chauvinism and the fanning of militarist psychosis." While Moscow is not looking for a new global competition with the West, he wrote, Russia views the "taming" of Ukraine as the key task in restoring its regional domination.

Because Russia's "aggressive policies" were driven by the needs of Russia rather than the actions of Kyiv, argued Horbulin, even a major change in Ukraine's political course would not produce any substantial change in Moscow's approach. Horbulin reckoned that Moscow realizes it has a relatively short window of opportunity offered by Ukraine's internal political squabbling and international isolation, so "the 'assault on Kyiv' will unfold in the nearest future and will be determined and merciless." Moreover, experience has convinced the Russians, he maintained, that "pro-Russian" politicians in Ukraine quickly adopt a pro-Ukrainian/pro-Western course as soon as they come to power. While Horbulin believed that Russia has many non-military levers with which to influence Ukraine (above all, by stirring up trouble in the Crimea), he did not rule out the use of military force, especially if Ukraine's new president proves not to be as pliable as the Kremlin may hope.

Unlike Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko put an emphasis not on NATO, but on the European Union, and the European collective defense framework. Prime Minister Tymoshenko publicly opposed changing the constitution to make Russian an official second language in Ukraine, entering into any sort of international gas-transport consortium, or extending basing of Russia's Black Sea Fleet (BSF) in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol. Tymoshenko largely kept her own counsel on foreign policy. Unlike Yanukovych, she did not have a stable of foreign-policy advisors; Deputy PM Nemyria seems to be her only close counselor. Second, Tymoshenko is a consummate politician with a strong populist streak, and her approach to Russia -- as with just about everything else -- would be shaped by perceived political advantage at least as much as by ideology or principles.

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Page last modified: 17-04-2014 19:51:23 ZULU