TCS Daily

The Other Inauguration

By Ariel Cohen - January 21, 2005 12:00 AM

President Victor Yuschenko's inauguration on Sunday January 23 is not the end of the road: it is the beginning of a fundamentally new relationship between the US and the West, and Ukraine. Washington needs to throw a lifeline to Kyiv to complete the historic transformation and to build the democratic and free Ukraine of the 21st century.

The exhilarating Orange Revolution has demonstrated the deep desire of its people for honest, responsive and democratic government. This was a drama worthy of the 1989 scenes in Wenceslas Square in Prague and Solidarity's surge to freedom in Poland. Victor Yushchenko's heroic victory in the third round of presidential elections on December 26, 2004, now raises the question of what's the most effective Western support to make the Ukrainian post-election transition a success. The Bush Administration should facilitate Ukraine's membership in WTO, lift Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions, encourage Ukraine's EU membership, expand NATO's cooperation with Kyiv, offer a bridging loan for economic restructuring; and state unequivocally that US will not tolerate threats to Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Post-election challenges. With 52% of the vote, Yushchenko will face multiple challenges. His primary concerns include the polarized electorate; calls for regional autonomy; decrepit, value subtracting, rust-belt coal and steel industries in the East; and the opposition of protectionist oligarchs, apparatchiks and thugs. What's more, 44 percent of voters favored Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich, an ex-con who promised to tighten Ukraine's ties with Russia, make Russian the second official language, and introduce dual citizenship. Ukrainian oligarchs -- Yanukovich's supporters and main beneficiaries of the economic links with Russia -- may launch a political opposition that will be difficult to overcome. If Russia retaliates by banning its large Ukrainian guest work force, Yushchenko's popularity may suffer. Finally, Ukraine finds itself in the epicenter of the East-West strategic competition. The Orange Revolution opened the door to Ukraine's European reintegration. Russia's influence in the country declined, though Ukraine's relations with its gigantic neighbor remain a long-term constant and a national priority.

Implications for the West. The US and the EU demonstrated policy coordination over Ukraine, which is rare in the post-Iraq world. However, after the revolution the EU has proceeded with caution. The EU now has to face its future relations with Ukraine in addition to the difficult accession of Turkey. The EU may pursue a good-neighbor policy, sign an associate member status agreement, or explore an outright membership which may take 10-15 years to achieve. Ukraine-NATO relations are another promising direction for cooperation. NATO is a leading Western organization to ensure Ukraine's Western integration, as well as to restore a greater cohesion in transatlantic foreign policy. However, Ukrainian membership may cause friction in the US-Russian, EU-Russian, and Ukraine-Russian relations.

The US has supported the triumph of democracy in Ukraine and is interested in having Ukraine stable, prosperous and integrating in Euro-Atlantic structures. US also extensively cooperated with the European Union, achieving a unified position in support of Ukraine's transformation -- an important post-Iraq achievement. At the same time, the US relationship with Russia is also important, as the Bush Administration seeks President Vladimir Putin's support on future diplomatic action on Iran; reconstruction of Iraq; non-proliferation; counter-terrorism and energy cooperation. Support of Ukraine should not damage this relationship.

Supporting Ukraine. The US has to provide support for Ukraine's integration with the West; encourage the EU to take Ukraine in, and preserve a working relationship with Russia. Therefore, integration into European institutions and bolstering of an assistance package to Ukraine are the proper approaches for the US Ukraine policy.

The Bush Administration should convince the 109th Congress to repeal the Jackson Vanik Amendment's as it applies to Ukraine. The Amendment, which curbs normal trade status, is an irrelevant legacy of the Cold War as far as Ukraine is concerned.

The State Department should encourage the EU to sign an associate membership agreement with Ukraine and begin preliminary consultations on accession, including the exact date of the start of negotiation.

The Pentagon should expand NATO's Partnership for Peace program to further modernize Ukraine's military; promote civilian control over the military; explore a "trusted ally" non-member relationship; and eventually consider Ukraine's membership in the Alliance.

The Treasury and the State Departments should work with and through the international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to diversify Ukraine's Soviet-era heavy industries and provide, if necessary, a bridging loan to shut down unprofitable mines.

The US should help the Yushchenko Administration develop a comprehensive package of reforms in the rule of law and legal reform. It should include privatization; expansion of free trade; and reducing and simplifying taxation. Civil service overhaul, including law enforcement, is key to restore Ukrainians' trust in the state.

Washington should help Kyiv promote regionally focused export-oriented projects in Ukraine; and should foster technical assistance and cooperation with the private sector to make Ukraine a foreign investment magnet.

Prior to the Bush-Putin summit in Slovakia scheduled for February 24, the State Department should find an opportunity to mention that that the US fully endorses territorial integrity of Ukraine. The US should clarify to the Kremlin that the US support of Ukraine is not aimed at hurting Russian political and economic interests there (such as the Russian naval base in Sevastopol), investment, energy transit to Europe, overflight, etc.

Finally, The White House should work with the Yushchenko Administration to reverse pre-election promises to withdraw the Ukrainian contingent from Iraq, which is the fourth-largest one in the US-led coalition.

Ukraine has presented a renewed opportunity for the US engagement in the region. Washington should demonstrate unwavering political support for Ukraine's pursuit of its democratic aspirations. An ongoing, cohesive transatlantic US foreign policy towards Ukraine should be at the core of the Bush Administration support for Ukraine.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute at The Heritage


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