Ukraine: Yanukovich Takes NATO Off The Table

UKRAINE: YANUKOVICH TAKES NATO OFF THE TABLE

Strategic Forecasting Inc (Stratfor)
September 15, 2006 Friday

Summary

Ukraine is not ready to join NATO, new Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor
Yanukovich said Sept. 14. The statement from Yanukovich is clear,
direct and correct: The U.S. geopolitical offensive against Russia
through Ukraine is over for now, and the issue of Ukrainian membership
in NATO will not be back on the table while Yanukovich is in office.

Analysis

New pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich said
Sept. 14 that Ukraine is not ready to join NATO. Though it was already
clear Ukraine was not going to make an overture to NATO any time soon,
the fact that Yanukovich went out of his way to make this statement
indicates that the U.S. offensive against Russia through Ukraine has
stalled for the time being.

When it supported the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the United
States essentially indicated that it wanted to enfeeble Russia and set
the stage for Moscow’s elimination as a strategic competitor. Russia
reacted as one might expect, using a mix of political and economic
levers to reverse its fortunes in Ukraine. Two years later, the
pro-Russian Yanukovich is Ukraine’s prime minister.

Though Yanukovich leans toward Moscow, he is in the process of
forming a coalition government that features the pro-Western Viktor
Yushchenko, an Orange Revolution leader, as president. The alliance
between them remains somewhat nebulous, but one thing is clear:
Yushchenko controls foreign policy. Yanukovich, therefore, could not
have made this statement without reaching at least a tacit agreement
with Yushchenko — and the Kremlin — first.

The issue of national political maneuvering aside, Ukraine really is
not ready to join NATO any time soon. Yanukovich told Russian media
that public support for Ukraine’s joining NATO is between 14 percent
and 25 percent. Though the level of support is likely higher than that,
it is certainly not high enough — particularly in the pro-Russian
eastern and southern regions — to allow for a smooth accession effort.

And Ukraine is not the only place where the Russians are pulling
some strings.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced Sept. 13 that it considered
Transdniestria’s independence referendum, planned for Sept. 17,
legitimate.

Transdniestria is a separatist enclave on the former Soviet republic
of Moldova’s eastern edge populated mostly by Russians. Russian
military forces, officially acting as peacekeepers after a brief
war in 1993, unofficially help Transdniestria maintain its de facto
independence. Until now the official Russian government position has
been that Transdniestria is still part of Moldova, and that Russia
respects Moldova’s territorial integrity. Today’s change marks the
first time the Kremlin has shifted that position since the end of
the Cold War.

The rationale for the change is simple. In May the West allowed
Montenegro to hold its own independence referendum and break away
from Serbia. In the Russian (and Transdniestrian) mind, the same
right should be available to the Transdniestrians. Keeping Moldova
off-balance is also the most effective way to block any additional
eastward expansion of NATO or the European Union; most organizations
have problems granting defense guarantees or trade privileges to
states that do not even pretend to control their entire territories.

And this is just the start. Three other regions in former Soviet
republics — Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, and South Ossetia and
Abkhazia in Georgia — could follow through with their own referendums
soon, seeking to capitalize on the same precedent. At this time,
however, only South Ossetia has scheduled a referendum. Abkhazia
has explicitly said that reunification with Russia is off the table,
and Nagorno-Karabakh is on the fence between independence and joining
Armenia.

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