The Institute of World Policy in Kiev interviewed Carnegie Moscow's Dmitri Trenin on Ukrainian foreign policy, after the first 100 days of the new Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
What key achievements and mistakes would you note in the foreign policy executed by President Viktor Yanukovych in his first 100 days in office?
Achievements of President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government in the first 100 days:
- Setting a new tone in relations with Russia, thus turning a liability/irritant into an asset for Kiev;
- Negotiating a deal with Moscow which would give immediate and substantial material gains to Ukraine, in exchange for a promise (on Sebastopol/BSF) which may be revisited/modified/withdrawn by future Ukrainian leaders, or even by Yanukovych himself;
- Reaffirming Ukraine’s strategic orientation toward the EU, while dropping the NATO bid as unrealistic without sufficient popular support; and politely refusing to join the Russia-led Customs Union and a Naftogaz acquisition by Gazprom;
- Having met with top EU, Russian and U.S. leaders soon after taking office.
Mistakes there might have been, but no conspicuous blunders.
Has the image of Ukraine abroad changed since the new president took office, and if so, how?
Ukraine’s image abroad has not changed dramatically, but people in the EU countries and the U.S. are less worried about a new gas (or any other) conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The scenes in the Ukrainian parliament during the ratification of the “Gas-Fleet” treaty with Russia notwithstanding, Ukraine is seen as having become a quieter place. Time now to look at the economic issues and the much-needed reforms. The image of Ukraine will depend on whether its president and government will move forward on those issues or get mired in inefficiency, corruption, sweet deals, etc.
What are your evaluation of the first activities of Ukraine’s President in the area of national security; specifically, his refusing the Euro-Atlantic course of Ukraine and his possible initiating a legislative act fixing a non-aligned status of Ukraine, as well as the extension of the term of locating the Russian Federation’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea?
The security policy of the present Ukrainian leadership is realistic, based on what is possible: no prospect of joining NATO in the foreseeable future, and no wish to join the Russia-led CSTO. Hence, a perfectly logical status outside of security alliances. Codifying it in a body of law may be less important than building a new political and social consensus on the issue. The Black Sea Fleet decision is a means to defuse relations with Russia, gain some money and win time; this is not a reversal of alliances. Anything which could lead Ukraine to a conflict with Russia needs to be resolutely avoided, security and defense industrial cooperation with Russia can be profitable and thus desirable; however, a too close alliance with Russia will be avoided by both Yanukovych and Azarov.
Did you notice any proof that the European integration of Ukraine is a priority of the foreign policy of President Yanukovych, and if so, what are they?
European integration is not about saying the correct words, but about action to reform the Ukrainian economy, in particular by increasing its energy efficiency; to improve the legal system; to reduce corruption, etc. So far, little or nothing has happened in any one of these areas in the last 100 days. Soon, however, it should be clear whether the present leadership is serious about Europeanizing Ukraine. For Ukraine, modernization equals Europeanization. That should be clear to everyone.
Do you think that the foreign policy of the new Ukrainian authorities could be harmful to Ukraine’s sovereignty and the integrity of her territory?
Good relations with Russia are not a bad thing for Ukraine; it is bad relations that can be domestically divisive and internationally dangerous. Sovereignty of any country rests on one’s ability to pay one’s way, including paying one’s bills. The higher the energy sufficiency, the stronger the sovereignty. Ukraine’s territorial integrity was most threatened when a specter of NATO membership was stalking that part of Europe; with the specter now back in closet, the danger is absent.