The Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2013, published a paper by Ariel Cohen on why US should support closer ties of Ukraine to the European Union. Russia is pressuring Ukraine to join Belarus and Kazakhstan in a Eurasian Customs Union led by Moscow. Acquiescing to Russia’s wishes would anchor Ukraine in a Moscow-dominated economic zone and impose higher tariffs on Ukrainian trade with the European Union. Russia also wants Ukraine to join the Joint Economic Space, the Eurasian Union, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. This integration would recreate the geography of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire, strengthening and emboldening Moscow as a global geopolitical actor. It is in the national interest of the United States to prevent Ukraine from becoming a Russian satellite and a key member of a Moscow-dominated sphere of influence. The U.S. needs to assist Ukraine and its European partners in derailing Russia’s pressure tactics for bringing Ukraine into Moscow’s orbit. Excerpts below:
On August 17, 2013, the Kyiv-based website Ukraine Today published a document summarizing the Kremlin’s strategy on how to force Ukraine to join Russia’s sphere of influence.The Russian strategy, which the Kremlin has not disavowed, is designed to pressure Ukraine into joining a Moscow-led Customs Union (which currently includes Belarus and Kazakhstan). The strategy was authored by experts working for Sergey Glazyev, President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on regional economic integration, and a prominent Russian nationalist and leftist who supports reintegration of the former Soviet republics under Moscow’s aegis.
The strategic goal of the document is to prevent Ukraine from signing an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union [in November 2013], prompting it to instead join Russia’s Customs Union by 2015. This step would anchor Ukraine in a Russia-dominated economic zone and impose higher tariffs on Ukrainian trade with the EU. The strategy includes measures to ban Ukrainian products from Russian markets if Kyiv insists on European integration and disobeys Moscow’s diktat.
… it is important for American policymakers to understand and counter Russia’s neo-imperial designs on Ukraine. Specifically, the U.S. should announce public and diplomatic support of associate EU membership for Ukraine and the DCFTA in Washington, Europe, and in Kyiv; send high-level officials to visit Ukraine; provide technical assistance, if requested, to boost the country’s lackluster economic performance; and encourage Europe to lower its trade tariffs with Kyiv.
The Kremlin expected the current Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich, to facilitate Ukraine’s reintegration in the Russian political and economic sphere, as he was Moscow’s preferred candidate in 2004 and 2010. Yanukovich hails from the Russian-speaking Eastern region of Donetsk, and many of his voters from the country’s east and south would be happy with a closer relationship with Russia.
When Yanukovich took office in 2010, he was widely viewed as a pro-Moscow figure. Since then, he has indeed taken some pro-Russian steps: He signed a long-term agreement to keep the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol; in August 2012, he signed a law raising the status of Russian to an official regional language in 13 of 27 Ukrainian regions (oblasts), leading to protests by native speakers of Ukrainian in the western and central parts of the country. Nevertheless, Yanukovich has continued to follow a generally pro-European foreign policy and has given up neither Ukraine’s political independence nor his own.
Moscow’s strategic objectives concerning Ukraine have barely changed over the past 400 years. By working to pull Ukraine into its fold, Moscow is seeking to expand its coastal line on the Black Sea; get its power closer to the Balkans; integrate 44 million Eastern Orthodox, Russian-speaking Slavs into its own dwindling Russian Slavic population; gain control over Ukraine’s military–industrial base (including aerospace); attain access to the richest agricultural potential in Europe; and lock up Ukraine’s offshore and shale oil and gas reserves.
As stated in the Kremlin strategy, Russia’s objectives include:
• Preventing Ukraine from signing the Association Agreement with the EU;
• Forming an influential network of pro-Russian forces capable of ensuring Ukraine’s ascendance to the Customs Union—and eventually to the Eurasian Union—by 2015; and limiting the scope of perceived anti-Russian actions of the current Ukrainian leadership;
• Neutralizing and weakening the media and political influence of Ukrainian and Western proponents of European integration; and
• Creating conditions for Ukraine to join the Russian-dominated political space in Eurasia.
It is in the U.S. interest that Ukraine sign an Association Agreement and a DCFTA with the EU. Therefore, the Administration should:
• Encourage the Ukrainian leadership to sign the Association Agreement and DCFTA with the European Union at the Vilnius summit in November. The White House should reaffirm the guarantees of Ukrainian sovereignty and independence pledged by the U.S. in 1994, which include protection from economic pressure. The U.S. should also promote the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko from prison—a step that would further encourage the Europeans to sign the Association Agreement.
• Expand U.S. and international technical assistance to Ukraine, if requested, for steps Kyiv may take to defend its trade from discriminatory Russian trade practices, such as preparation of WTO claims. Offer advice to: facilitate Ukraine’s economic reforms, combat corruption, increase transparency of government decision making, make the civil service smaller and more efficient, privatize government services where possible, improve law enforcement practices, enhance the work of the courts, assist with training of judges and prosecutors, deepen legal reform, and improve banking practices. The U.S. may lower tariffs on imports from Ukraine to compensate partially for imposition of Russian tariffs on Ukrainian goods.
• Boost public and diplomatic support of Ukraine’s Association Agreement and DCFTA with European capitals, signaling high-level U.S. attention to this matter, and dispatch senior American officials to Kyiv to articulate support through talks with the Ukrainian leadership and public appearances. The Obama Administration should denounce Moscow’s illegal economic pressure on Ukraine to force it to join the Customs Union and provide technical advice on measures Kyiv can take to oppose such pressure in the WTO and other international frameworks.
The United States has supported the Ukrainian dream of independence and transition to democracy and markets since the collapse of the Soviet Union. American geopolitical interests and ties to Eastern Europe require high-profile and unambiguous support of Ukraine’s Association Agreement and DCFTA with the European Union. The U.S. needs to join Ukraine and its European partners in derailing economic blackmail and soft-power pressures inherent in the Glazyev–Medvedchuk plan to bring Ukraine into Moscow’s orbit.
—Ariel Cohen, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. The author wishes to thank Ivan Benovic, a 2013 graduate of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a native of Slovakia, for invaluable contribution to this paper.