Ukraine: Choosing a New Way

When we get Russian gas, the problem is not the supplier, but the fact that 80 percent of the pipeline is located in the Ukraine. We should look for independence not from Russia, but from such transit schemes,” (Gerhard Schroeder)

Just after 2004 Orange Revolution Ukraine took course towards Nato and EU, the new leadership had popular backing to fulfil fast forward hopes its policy. Instead of the fast forward progress scenarios the outcome has been a totally different crisis scenarios including possible confrontation between Ukraine and Russia in Crimea due the Black Sea Fleet, a new dispute over the supply of Russian natural gas to and via Ukraine, different ethnic tensions with minorities and of course declining economy with all social impact.

The dominant factor in Ukrainian political life has been the inability of political leaders – President Victor Yushchenko and his prime ministers – to work together to promote high-flown ideas. Now however the course is changing again in January elections. According different opinion polls President Yushchenko will lose the game already on first round and the winner of second round early February will probably have a pragmatic approach towards Russia and potential to implement more balanced policy. Ukraine is likely to pursue a more modest pace in developing its relations with NATO, a more measured tone on support for Georgia, and more moderate relations with Russia.

Ethnic tensions

Internally Ukraine has a big divide between the Russian friendly and ethnic Russian regions against the more westward looking regions. There is ethnic tensions also between central government and the (Trans-Carpathian) Rusins – an East Slavic people that is the indigenous population of the Carpathian Mountains; the Crimean Tatars and nowadays also with supporters of radical Islam. An of course there is some 9-17 million Russians in country total population of 46 million.

During Yushchenko’s presidency Ukraine has been eager towards Nato membership; same time there has been speculations what will the near future foresee after 2017 for the Russian fleet in Sevastopol? In the worst case the situation might even instigate or support an effort by Crimea to break away from Ukraine. The new president probably is ready to end these speculations.

It is also possible that despite results in election separatist movements are gaining more support and one compromise can be creation some kind of federation with strong minority rights which also can block Ukraine’s former western dreams.

From Subject to Object

From my viewpoint Ukraine has during last presidency lost its regional importance mostly due the geopolitical energy game. GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) Group was founded 1999 with help of US to foster favourable conditions conducive to economic growth through development of an Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor. GUUAM was dominated by Anglo-American oil interests, ultimately purports to exclude Russia from oil and gas deposits in the Caspian area, as well as isolating Moscow politically.

Now GUUAM is coming to end of its short road. Already earlier Uzbekistan withdraws from it leaving behind a stump GUAM. Then Georgia started its aggressions with false idea of western support leading today’s situation. Moldova was aiming towards Nato and EU but after conflict in Georgia it started to look other alternatives. Political attitudes of Azerbaijan and Russia have approached each other. Russia again took the initiative acting as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan to solve long term conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh. The last piece of GUUAM is Ukraine and also this last fortress has degenerated to stagnation. More e.g. in article “Is GUUAM dead?

The adventure after Orange revolution in foreign policy issues finally lead to situation where Ukraine turned from a subject of politics into an object of (geo)politics.

Energy game

One of the real parts of Euro-Asian Oil Transportation Corridor is the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline from Ukraine to Poland for transportation oil from Caspian Sea region to Baltic Sea. However completed in 2001 up to Brody near the Polish border, that pipeline remained empty for three years. In 2004, Russian oil companies began to transfer oil from Brody to Odessa instead of original from East to West plan. However, Ukraine still looks to extend this pipeline so that it can carry Azerbaijani oil arriving from the Georgian port of Supsa to Odessa and then take it to the Polish refinery at Plock and potentially to the port of Gdansk. Some 500 kilometres of pipeline have to be built for that to happen. Meantime other players have been taken more and more Azerbaijan’s energy resources for other markets.

The latest gas dispute made it clear that Ukraine is not reliable transmitter of Russian gas to Europe. This boosted EU’s Nabucco –plan to new level. The same is true also with Russia’s South Stream pipe line. The both pipelines are bypassing Ukraine. When implemented – probably until 2015 – the new line(s) are invalidating the significance of Ukraine as transit route of energy. Turkey is taking this role as most important energy hub for Europe. More e.g. in article “The Nabucco-South Stream race intensifies”.

Declining economy

For a short-sighted and selfish political motivation (the weakening of Russia and its sphere of influence) of West has helped divide and devastate Ukraine. However the EU can’t afford Ukraine economically, geographically and politically, nevertheless in an attempt to weaken Russia EU attempted to lure it away form the Kremlin’s sphere of influence. The result has been economic catastrophe for Ukraine which has seen significant rises in its gas and oil bills along with other economic misfortunes.

The unsolved economic and social difficulties accompany the young state since its declaration of independence. The outbreak of the world economic crisis in 2007/08 with its financial and industrial breakdown accelerated and deepened these problems such as a general credit crunch, an enormous devaluation of the currency, a decline of production following the decline of steel-prices on the world-market and a remarkable reduction of foreign-trade which effects are reflecting from one side the integration of the country into the market economy and Ukraine’s peripheral position from the other side.

Despite the greatest media freedom Ukraine has position 155 in press freedom and is described as partly free in Freedom House survey. Threats, harassment, and attacks against the media continued as the country’s weak and politicized criminal justice system failed to protect journalists from regional politicians, businessmen, and criminal groups.

One of the main tasks of the new political leadership is to provide a balanced position between Brussels and Moscow. This may be realistic when the EU same time is searching a possible “third way” between EU member- and non-membership with some innovative model of “privileged partnership” discussed especially with case of Turkey. The model – when first created – could be copied also with some other countries which now are in enlargement process or included in Eastern Partnership program like Ukraine.

Conclusions

Ukraine tried play important role in U.S. backed GUUAM to create East-West transport corridor for energy blocking Russia from Caspian Sea energy resources and isolating Moscow politaically. However Russia implemented its own initiatives making North-South energy corridors stronger and helping to transfer East-West corridor some hundreds of kilometres southwards. As a result GUUAM is nearly dead, both EU’s and Russia’s new pipelines are bypassing Ukraine, Turkey is coming the main energy hub to Europe.

I wait that during this election Ukraine will finally get rid off Mr. Yushchenko already in first round, which will be won by Mr. Yanukovich. However last round will bring victory to Mrs. Timoshenko and so the country will get both pragmatic and charismatic new leader.

The new president in Ukraine will probably have more pragmatic approach towards cooperation with Russia. Ukraine is likely to pursue a more modest pace in developing its relations with NATO, a more measured tone on support for Georgia, and more moderate relations with Russia. The outcome can very well be easing tensions not only in energy policy but with ethnic and military fields too.

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