|Torn between East and West? Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych receives Catherine Ashton, high representative of the European Union, top; Russian President Vladimir Putin advises Yanukovych
NEW HAVEN: Hundreds of thousands march on a square in Kiev and demolish a statue of Lenin. Government forces in riot gear move at night to dismantle barricades and arrest protesters. The state security service raids the opposition headquarters, accusing its leaders of treason. In Russia, the Kremlin shuts down an independent news agency, placing it in the control of regime loyalists, while dismissing the protesters in Kiev as “trained militant groups.”
The government of Vladimir Putin tries to reestablish Russian hegemony over the former “Soviet space” with moves reminiscent of the Cold War.
The current chain of events started with the impending completion of an “association agreement” between Ukraine and the European Union designed to promote increased trade and Ukrainian contact with the West. This, Moscow decided, could not stand, pushing instead a Russia-led customs union of former Soviet republics. Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych suspended talks with the EU and announced he would instead focus on rebuilding economic ties with Russia. The Financial Times quoted a Russian official saying that Ukraine had no freedom to choose an EU integration deal because the country remained economically a “satellite state” of Russia.
Ukraine is not alone among the former Soviet republics to feel pressure from the Kremlin. Armenia was also on the brink of signing an association agreement and free trade pact with the EU when the government pulled out of talks and announced it was instead joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. During a visit to Yerevan in early December, Putin offered to cut the price of Russian natural gas exported to Armenia and write off a big chunk of debt.
A Russian official suggested that Ukraine remains economically
a “satellite state” of Russia. Ukraine is not alone.
US President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team need a productive relationship with Russia, especially with Iran and Syria on the agenda, and Ukraine is a nation beset by internal problems. But when Russia pursues policies contrary to the long-term interests of the transatlantic community, the US must find strategic ways to respond that will not be missed in the Kremlin.
Beyond expressing public support for the people in Kiev’s streets, as US Secretary of State Kerry and others have now done, and for Ukraine’s civil society, the West urgently needs to take three steps, all of which will register with Moscow:
• First, the West must help Ukraine and other nations similarly situated resist energy blackmail by resurrecting western support for an East-West energy corridor so that there are diverse options for exporting natural gas and oil from the Caucasus and Central Asia to world markets. Among the lessons previous US administrations learned in supporting the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is that while energy pipelines must be economically viable, they also have geostrategic value. Moscow understands the possibilities of pipeline policies and has aggressively sought to gain advantage. If the West does not quickly return to the game, might Turkey – a NATO member which imports Russian natural gas through the Blue Stream pipeline – get a call like the ones placed to Ukraine and Armenia? Other European nations which buy gas from Russia don’t want to be on Kremlin speed-dials either. That is why policies that promote the development of European shale gas resources also belong in the strategic category. The risks of energy dependence on Moscow are greater than the risks of sensible, safe fracking.
Policies that promote the development of European shale gas resources also belong in the strategic category.
Returning to a strategic western engagement to promote multiple East-West energy options requires sustained focus on Central Asia. Moscow has persuaded Kyrgyzstan to oust America from the air base in Manas by July 2014 with offers of military aid and a debt write-off. The Chinese also have long-term objectives in the region. As The Economist reports, during a tour of Central Asia this autumn, Chinese President Xi Jinping appropriated then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call for a “New Silk Road “ and “sealed the idea with tens of billions of dollars in road, rail and pipeline projects, all of them leading to China.” There are serious governance and human rights problems in Central Asia which need to be on the agenda, but avoiding engagement will not solve them.
• Second, we need to see the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, for what it is: a strategic investment in the economic and political future of the West. That insight should spur an urgent effort to get both an agreement among the parties and renewed trade promotion authority from the US Congress. Indeed, an all-encompassing strategy would recognize the equally strategic nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and get it ready for early approval. Tactical disagreements over genetically modified foods or intellectual property rights, important as they may be for crucial constituencies, can be resolved and prevent Moscow’s alternative strategic vision.
Trade partnerships are a strategic investment in the economic and political future of
• Third, the West must put new energy into the NATO alliance. In Afghanistan, NATO has operated with more partner nations than at any time in alliance history, and NATO nations are now more militarily and politically able to work with one another and with non-NATO countries than ever before. That is all to the good, but many NATO nations have sacrificed a great deal in Afghanistan, and when the combat mission there ends next year, publics on both sides of the Atlantic will rightly ask: What is NATO for today? At NATO’s September 2014 summit in the United Kingdom, alliance leaders have an historic opportunity to answer that question by focusing on three key issues: What role will NATO play in the future of Afghanistan? How can economies still bedeviled by low growth and budget deficits spend enough on defense? How can Europeans keep building capabilities, more effectively to deploy forces as well as to defend against cyber-attacks, for example?
Some maintain the world is in a post-strategic era. Ukrainians marching in the streets of Kiev testify to the contrary. It is good news that senior representatives from the United States and the European Union are in Kiev trying to end further violent confrontations and perhaps even get Yanukovych to tack back toward Brussels. But let them also consider longer-term, strategic actions that will demonstrate commitment to Ukrainians’ right to choose their friends and their right to embrace western values.