Seventeen years ago Bertil Haggman published the article , “Ukraine’s Geopolitical World Role” in In Ukraine – A Monthly Journal, Canada, Volume 2, No.4, April 1992). It was a geopolitical/historical backgrounder including the 1919-1920 view of Sir Halford Mackinder (then British High Commissioner for South Russia) that buffer states were needed to check Russia. Sir Halford mentioned Ukraine and Georgia among those states. Seventeen years after the publication of that backgrounder it seems as if the recommendations of the British geopolitician may be realized.
In the 1920s there was no NATO. The situation in 2009 differs much from that in the post- World War I era. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization formed in 1949 has grown into a world wide security organization protecting democracies from the United States in the West to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria in the east.
A Coming Shift in World Politics?
Not long before the Bucharest meeting of NATO in April 2009 former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in an article (Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2008, “NATO Expansion Should Continue”) reminded the readers that NATO needs clarity of purpose. A display of timidity in the Romanian capital would derail a process that included bringing Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance through membership action plans (MAP).
At a joint press availability in Kyiv on April 1 with Presidents Viktor Yushchenko and George W. Bush, the Ukrainian president said that there were no alternatives to collective security. The American president pointed out that Ukraine and the United States shares not only an interest in security but democratic values. Ukraine has demonstrated its commitment to democracy and free markets. America and Ukraine were working together to help the Ukrainians build a better life. Ukraine could count on continuing American support fighting corruption, supporting civil society groups, and strengthening institutions of the free and prosperous economy.
In an exchange of luncheon toasts later that day the Ukrainian president thanked the United States and President Bush personally for consistent and persistent support of Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO. There was also the important support on the road to the World Trade Organization. In his reply President Bush said that Ukraine had made great contributions to the history of human freedom. Ukrainians in 2004 inspired the world with the Orange revolution. Ukraine is showing great courage in consistently supporting freedom around the world and has contributed to every mission of the NATO Alliance. The two nations shared a common vision for the future. The United States would be proud to stand with Ukraine.
The inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO will be a great strategic shift. For several years after 2004 Russia might have thought that U.S. interests were diverted to the Middle East. Moscow intervened directly to hamper the march of freedom in Ukraine. Should Ukraine and Georgia be able to join MAP Russia may initiate countermoves maybe through its assets in Ukraine. The question of course is how strong the Russians really are? It seems as if President Bush believes a new front can be opened. This time it is not a military front, as in Iraq, but a political-diplomatic front. The American hegemon is attempting to find another global balance and facing the Russian threat. It was a bold move and an important moment in post-Cold War history and at last Ukraine plays an important geopolitical role. That role was crucial already in the 1920s but the West did not understand it then. Now after the Soviet collapse and the Orange Revolution it seems likely the time, at last, has come for Ukraine.
The German Problem – and a French
As President Bush left Kyiv for Bucharest the stage was set. It was left to see if some European members of NATO would challenge the vision of President Bush: a change of strategy. The NATO meeting decided to postpone MAP for Ukraine and Georgia until late 2008. In reality it does not mean much but some East European NATO members, who were on America’s sidem warned of the consequences of a delay. The Latvian President, Valdis Satler, pointed out that the delay would affect the internal debate in Ukraine. If there is no action plan, there is also no action. If there is a delay, the inevitable is only postponed. Ukraine and Georgia must have MAP.
The official German standpoint was that Ukraine and Georgia were not now ready for MAP. The problem is that Berlin might not want Moscow to be challenged. Unfortunately Germany, among others, depends on Russian oil and gas for its energy. The main point may be that President Bush doesn’t care if he lost on the point of the Ukrainian and Georgian bids just now. It was clear in Bucharest that Ukraine and Georgia are on the road to NATO membership.
In his radio address to the American people on April 5, 2008 President Bush repeated his firm belief in the progress of both countries:
“Another burgeoning democracy is Ukraine. Earlier this week I travelled to Kyiv to express America’s support for beginning the process of bringing both Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. In recent years, both these nations have seen tens of thousands take to the streets to peacefully demand their God-given liberty. The people of Ukraine and Georgia are an inspiration to the world and I was pleased that this week NATO declared that Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO.”
The West or Eurasia?
The so called Eurasianists in Russia believe in an Asian future for the country. The fact that a part of Russia extends from the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok makes it not only a European country but an Asian country. The old difference between Eurasianists and Westerners in Russia’s geopolitics has remained after the Soviet collapse.
One reason for possible conflict between Russia and China in the future is the ongoing territorial disputes. PRC is claiming around 1,5 million square kilometres of Russian territory in Asia. Peking already in 1963 raised the question of the “nine unequal treaties” with Russia from 1689. Just along the Sinkiang border there are 20 areas from 1,000 to 30,000 square kilometres in dispute according to PRC.
Some of the so called “unequal treaties” are:
Treaty of Nerchinsk, 1689
Treaty of Aigun, 1858
Treaty of Tientsin, 1858
Treaty of Peking, 1860
Treaty of Chugusak, 1864
Treaty of St. Petersburg, 1881
Since 9/11 American strategy has been focused in GWOT and Iraq. As hegemon the United States has no problem intervening elsewhere in the world. American resources are not overstretched. The preoccupation with the Middle East has however given Russia the advantage and opportunity to advance its influence in the area of the former Soviet Union. The main object is to hinder NATO to expand further east.
The 2008 offensive of President Bush seems to indicate that the Russians were then weaker than they looked on the surface and that the situation in Iraq is stabilizing as the surge has been working. The diplomatic-political offensive in the western part of Eurasia is a clear sign that the United States is not bogged down in the Middle East. The foreign policy can be rebalanced and it is not unimportant that that the then Secretary of State Mrs. Rice is a Russia expert of Stanford University in California.
t is crucial at this time to challenge the Russian attempts at roll-back of the NATO. The opening up of Moscow to a missile-shield and the NATO membership of Albania and Croatia is an opportunity for Washington D.C. to add another present focus of American foreign policy. The most important piece of this new focus is and will be Ukraine.