By Michael Averko
An open ended issue is prevalent on how America will deal with East Ukrainian political leader Viktor Yanukovych's likely resurgence in the Ukrainian body politic. Keep in mind that American foreign policy elites are preoccupied with other issues like Iraq, Iran and Hamas-Israel. Post Soviet Ukraine under Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko has burned America three times. On Ukraine, there's apprehension among those American elites, whose foreign policy specialties are in other areas. On the other hand, those concerned with Ukraine from a neo-conservative and George Soros funded neo-liberal persuasion will no doubt push for continued support for the more "pro-Western" forces within the Ukrainian political establishment. This advocacy is staunchly backed by the relatively influential and politically active West Ukrainian community in Canada and the U.S.
Yanukovych is so far positioning himself well by not going against his pro-Russian constituency, while expressing an openness to the West minus Ukraine joining NATO. Yanukovych is cool towards NATO like the majority of Ukraine's citizenry. He's interesting in closer EU ties with Ukraine, but is also sympathetic to the proposed Common Economic Sphere with Russia. He no doubt recognizes that Ukrainian membership in the EU isn't probable in the near future. A recent public opinion poll shows most of Ukraine's citizenry sharing Yanukovych's opinion of the CES, EU and NATO.*
North American attitudes towards Ukraine have been traditionally influenced by North Americans of West Ukrainian descent. This is especially true of Canada, where the ethnic West Ukrainian dynamic is proportionately greater than the U.S. In 1991, Canada and Poland recognized an independent Ukraine before a referendum was held to formally determine that matter. Prior to World War I., Western Ukraine was part of the Hapsburg Empire and between the two world wars (1918-39), it was part of Poland. West Ukraine's centuries long separation from historic Russia (those lands descended from Kievan Rus) resulted in that region developing a different geopolitical outlook, along with a distinct Christian denomination (Uniate), dialect (a mix of Polish, German and Ukrainian) and architecture.
It should be noted that many people with ancestral roots from the territory of modern day Ukraine don't always identify with Ukraine as much as they do with some other lands. Ethnic Poles from Lviv/Lvov are likely to feel a greater kinship with Poland. Jews from Ukraine often tend to identify more with Poland or Russia. There are many ethnic Russians from Ukraine. The 20% ethnic Romanian population in Bukovina (a region in Western Ukraine) are known to not be sympathetic towards Ukrainian nationalism. Not to be overlooked are those Ukrainians favoring closer ties with Russia.
Prior to the American government legislated Jackson-Vanik amendment of the 1970s (which began opening up emigration of Soviet nationals to America), the West Ukrainian view of Ukraine dominated America. Since Jackson-Vanik, a greater number of people from southern, central and eastern Ukraine have migrated to America as well as to Canada. Many of these newer arrivals don't share the West Ukrainian tendency of seeking to distance Ukraine from Russia. Despite this, the West Ukrainian consensus remains the more dominant one in North America. Case in point was a poll among Chicago's Ukrainian population during the so called "Orange Revolution." That poll favored Yushchenko by over 90%. This despite the fact that his opponent Yanukovych received over 40% of the vote in the last Ukrainian presidential election.
American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's recently repeated assertion of hers that Russia is (in her view) slipping back on democratic reforms indicates that Washington officialdom would be cool towards closer Russo-Ukrainian relations. Simultaneously though, one can find instances where extreme criticism of the Russian government can have its limits. Witness Anders Aslund's leaving the high profile (by American think tank standards) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Aslund's August paper calling for the overthrow of the "Putin regime" and his catering to anti-Russian advocates was apparently too much for the neo-liberal slanted Carnegie Endowment. Aslund has clearly targeted himself for support from the anti-Russian lobby of North American based individuals. A good number of these people have roots in Poland, Western Ukraine and the Baltics.
The Orange Circle is a newly created organization that has been funded by existing West Ukrainian dominated organizations like Brama. Such West Ukrainian institutions seek to influence the American foreign policy establishment.
Since the Soviet breakup, greater attempts have been made on the part of some North American based Polish and West Ukrainian intellectuals to promote closer relations between Ukraine and Poland, with Russia portrayed in a negative manner (despite this, one often hears that anti-Polish sentiment in Western Ukraine remains greater when compared to anti-Russian feeling).
The makeup of the Orange Circle is quite revealing. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Janusz Onyszkiewicz (former Polish Defense Minister), Madeleine Albright, Ann Applebaum (the influential Washington Post editor, who is married to the current Polish defense minister Radek Sikorski), Timothy Garton Ash (a prominent neo-conservative) Bronislaw Geremek and Vaclav Havel are all positively referred to at the Orange Circle's web site (some of them are formally involved with that organization).
A February 1, Orange Circle panel discussion featured Adrian Karatnycky, Anders Aslund and Marianna Kozinstseva. Karatnycky is the grandson of West Ukrainian emigres. For several years, he was on the staff of Freedom House, which has historically had a West Ukrainian bias. He now heads the Orange Circle. Since his departure from the Carnegie Endowment, Aslund has been active in stating his views before Russia unfriendly gatherings. Kozintseva, the lesser known of the three, is employed by the American financial firm Bear Stearns. Her Orange Circle panel appearance was intriguing given her stated skepticism of the supposed achievements of the so called "orange revolution."
Perhaps the February 1, invitation to Kozintseva shows a realization on the part of the orange crowd that they aren't likely to have their way in Ukraine and that compromises will have to be made. There's also the possibility of their trying to woo Yanukovych to a more West Ukrainian direction. This could be employed via a "damage control" plan. Under this scenario, there's the tacit acknowledgement that Ukraine will not politically influence Russia and that Moscow's historically close relationship with its southern neighbor will not end. At the same time, continued efforts will be made to limit Russian influence in Ukraine as much as possible.
The Orange Circle's recent creation is no doubt initiated (in part) to further encourage a greater separation between Kiev and Moscow. There's presently no effective pro-Russian lobbying group in the U.S. to offer a different perspective. Specifically, that closer Russo-Ukrainian relations aren't a threat to Western interests.
Given all of the variables, look for Washington, Moscow and the leading Ukrainian political factions to keep the existing differences from fully boiling over. No one benefits from a socio-economically weakened Ukraine.
* Citation of poll:
Poll shows Ukrainians favour joining CIS economic bloc ahead of EU
Ukrainian news agency UNIAN
Kiev, 15 February: While 42.6 per cent of Ukrainians support the country's
accession to the European Union, 56.8 per cent support membership of the
Single Economic Space [with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan].
The results of a national poll conducted by the Democratic Initiatives fund
in January was announced at a round table in Kiev today.
Another 30.5 per cent of respondents opposed Ukraine's EU entry, while 26.9
per cent failed to give an answer. While 17.8 per cent who opposed
Ukraine's accession to the Single Economic Space, 25.5 per cent failed to
give a clear answer.
Respondents provided the following answers to a question about Ukraine's
NATO entry: 19.2 per cent supported the entry; 55 per cent opposed it; 25.8
per cent had difficulty answering. When asked about the best guarantee of
Ukraine's security, the answers were as follows: 17.1 per cent mentioned
NATO entry; 35.5 per cent, military union with Russia and other CIS
countries; 26.2 per cent, a non-bloc status; 20 per cent failed to give a
The number of respondents polled was 2,000.
Commenting on the data, the director of the Democratic Initiatives fund,
Ilko Kucheriv, said that about 10 per cent of Ukrainians are really
interested in politics and are well informed. The problem is that
Ukrainians have a low awareness of what NATO is about, and they are guided
by the old stereotype of NATO as an aggressive bloc. He pointed out that 1
per cent of respondents were able to answer how many wars were started by NATO.
The director of international programmes at the Ukrainian Razumkov centre
for economic and political studies, Valeriy Chalyy, told the round table
that research conducted by the centre in January showed that only 6.6 per
cent of respondents said they were well informed about the EU, and 6.25 per
cent about NATO. Chalyy said this makes any opinion poll concerning these
institutions unreasonable because one cannot express an opinion without
knowing the subject.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst whose commentary has appeared in Eurasian Home, Johnson's Russia List, Intelligent.Ru, The Moscow Times, New York Times and Newsday.