Ukraine draws attention from the international community because it is
positioned between NATO and Russia. In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and
Poland were allowed to join NATO. Ukraine welcomed this accession as it would "strengthen
security and stability in the European Continent." It seems that Ukraine has
consistently moved closer to West European organizations and Ukraine took
advantage of this opportunity to significantly improve its relationship with the
However, the fact is not as simple as described above. Ukraine once proposed its original security plan and denounced NATO's PfP. Furthermore, Ukraine's economy relies heavily on the Russian market and energy supplies. When Ukraine's economy fails, there will be real danger that Ukraine involuntarily drifts eastward.
In this paper, attention will be given to Ukraine's unique security policy regarding NATO-Russian relations. In the first chapter, economic problem under which Ukraine has existed will be discussed. In the second chapter, attention will be given to Ukraine's bridge diplomacy. Taking into account Ukraine's economic constraint and neutral policy, the last chapter will discuss Ukraine's policy towards NATO's expansion.
1. Economic factor plays an important role in Ukraine's security policy since its economy depends on Russia. After Russia launched its price liberalization in January 1992, Ukraine chose to leave the Ruble zone in order to establish its own national economic policy. This policy, called the "New economic plan" ended in failure and brought about hyperinflation, decline of GDP and huge energy debts. Kiev realized that Ukraine could not run its economy without Russia's cheap energy and market. A year later, Ukraine switched its orientation to Russia, but claimed that this integration was limited to the economic area. This economic integration with Russia, or the CIS Economic Union, generated great disputes among the citizens. In the presidential election in 1994, Ukrainian opinion was divided into two: Eastern Ukraine voted for former prime minister and pro-Economic integrationist Kuchma, Western Ukraine voted for then President Kravchuk who acted as a guarantor of Ukrainian statehood. Kuchma won, but after the elections, he launched an economic reform with the IMF and did not choose the integration line with Russia. The reason is straightforward. The IMF provided credit to cover the energy debts. After this decision was made, Ukraine's interest for the CIS Economic Union diminished. Ukraine realized that Russia had no intention of selling its energy at a cheap price. As IMF gives credit, Ukraine's interest in Russia is only to secure market for its products. Even with the economic reform launch in 1994, Ukraine's economy still records minus growth and its dependency on Russia has not been resolved.
2. As in the case of Euro-neutrals, their positive image in international arena comes not from their economic or military power, but from their neutral diplomacy, that is, bridge-diplomacy. Ukraine also tries to carry out this diplomacy. In 1993, Ukraine proposed to create a collective security zone for Central and Eastern Europe. This proposal aimed to create a bridge between Western Europe and Russia that would develop a broad transatlantic security system covering the entire CSCE (now OSCE) region. This proposal has found little support in Central and Eastern states as well as U.S. and Russia because it seemed like an anti-Russian alliance. Furthermore, it could be said that unstable Ukraine lacked its positive international image. This proposal was finally eroded by the PfP, since the PfP aimed to create a bridge between NATO and non-NATO countries. In 1996, Ukraine had the opportunity to propose a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in Central and Eastern Europe which also aimed for a bridge between NATO and Russia. Ukraine connected this proposal with the fact that Ukraine has carried out her commitments to transfer nuclear warheads. However, it appears that Ukraine did not have an intention to institutionalize this proposal. Generally, negative security assurance from nuclear powers is one of the necessary factors to materialize the nuclear-weapon-free-zone. However, there was no security assurance discussion in this proposal. As a matter of fact, this proposal aimed to find a common language with Russia who strongly opposed to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO member states rather than creating a bridge between NATO and Russia.
3. Ukraine has shifted its view of NATO and its security policy. Eastern
European countries which wanted to join NATO regarded PfP as the first step to
NATO membership. Ukraine also did not oppose NATO's expansion, but claimed this
process must be evolutionary, and it was necessary to harmonize with neighboring
countries such as Russia and Ukraine. From Ukraine's viewpoint, Ukraine would
develop her security through the PfP framework. At this point, Ukraine advocated
building pan-European security institutions, especially the OSCE, the main
pillar of the new European security architecture. This was similar to the
Russian vision. Ukraine saw that NATO would be a promotive but secondary factor
for this institution.
However, soon Ukraine realized that NATO would expand in the near future. Ukraine changed its view of NATO from a passive to a positive one. Russian Duma and politicians have on several occasions called into question Ukraine's sovereignty over Sevastopol. Furthermore, some Russian government officials implied using economic pressure to boost its integration policy within the CIS.
In these circumstances, Ukraine must place NATO as the center of its security policy. Ukraine noticed that NATO was changing from a defense organization to a political-military institute, as well as the guardian of democracy and human rights. This could be the reason why NATO would not harm any other states. Furthermore, idealism regarding the OSCE was replaced by a realistic approach to NATO. At this moment, it was vital for Ukraine to conclude a special relationship with NATO. NATO-Russian document seemed likely to be signed, so if Ukraine could not conclude a document with NATO, Ukraine's future would be determined by this NATO-Russian document. In the negotiation process, Ukraine strongly asked NATO to give security assurance or "associate status." Finally, in the document called "NATO-Ukraine Charter," NATO gave vague security assurance to Ukraine. NATO knows that Russia is strongly against the former Soviet Republics joining NATO. NATO had given Ukraine this document to "keep Ukraine quiet" regarding this problem. This Ukrainian government's pro-NATO orientation could not be explained by domestic factors, such as parliament and regional opinions.
Since independence, Ukraine has been caught and limited by economic dependence on Russia. Nevertheless, Ukraine pursued its intention of playing an intermediary role in European security issues. In the Kosovo crisis, Ukraine again showed its intention to intermediate between NATO and Serbia, but this initiative had found little support by both sides and as a result, ended in failure. Under the current international environment, there is little room for Ukraine to implement its bridge-diplomacy. Concerning the above mentioned objective and subjective factors, Ukraine gradually shifted its policy toward NATO. However, NATO's expansion continued regardless Ukraine's concerns. Ukraine demanded more security assurances from NATO, but its proposals were rejected.
Every Ukrainian leader has to consider this situation. Ukraine's economic slump continues and Russia does not provide energy by cheap price. On the other hand, keeping a distance from NATO and pursuing its neutral policy have little prospect in the short and medium term. If the above-mentioned international condition continues, then there is no alternative for Ukraine but to maintain the current policy, IMF-oriented, pro-NATO but neutral status.