Trouble in Ukraine

September 27, 2008
Nobody's talking about it in the United States, but a serious political crisis has broken out in Ukraine. Those of you keeping score might remember that in 2004 the Orange Revolution brought a pro-Western government to power in Kyiv, and since then Ukraine and Georgia have emerged as the two most important allies of the United States among republics of the former Soviet Union which have not already joined NATO.

The crisis has been brought on by a feud between two of America's most important supporters in the country, President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. On Wednesday, Tymoshenko joined forces with Viktor Yanukovich (who was the Moscow-sponsored opponent of Yushchenko in the 2004 elections) in supporting a measure to limit the president's powers. The rumors are now that Tymoshenko and Yanukovich will form a coalition government with Tymoshenko as Prime Minister.
Yushchenko's supporters have accused Tymoshenko of treason and Yushchenko himself has threatened to dissolve parliament and call new elections--a move which seems unlikely given his party's own weak standing in opinion polls.

All of this comes at a time when Washington finds itself in an increasingly defensive position in Eurasia. After the heady days of 2004-2005 and the installation of pro-American governments in Georgia and Ukraine, the Bush administration's goals of incorporating both countries into NATO have already contributed to the partitioning of Georgia and risk creating a similarly volatile situation in Ukraine, where the idea of joining the alliance is anathema to the large Russian-speaking population of the country.

As I argued in a recent posting, the Bush administration's obsession with extending NATO membership to these countries is self-defeating. In Ukraine, the prospect of joinging the EU would be a far less divisive and equally effective means of guaranteeing Ukrainian territorial integrity. Indeed, Washington's current plans of putting Ukraine and Georgia on the fast track to membership in NATO could very well lead to the very breakup of Ukraine that Washington is seeking to avoid by promoting its membership. Particularly in today's heated atmosphere, Russians in Ukraine--particularly in the the Crimea--are simply not going to stand for it.

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