The Coup in the Kremlin
How Putin and the Security Services Captured the Russian State
After centuries of colonial anonymity Ukraine is finally making its mark on world affairs. Although relegated to secondary status by the West, Ukraine is rapidly emerging as a forceful and important actor in defining the contours of post-Soviet Europe. Russia and its President Boris Yeltsin may have taken the lead in defeating the August 1991 putsch and the Soviet Communist Party. But it was Ukraine, led by President Leonid Kravchuk, that ultimately provoked the unraveling of the Soviet empire: Ukraine’s refusal to sign Mikhail Gorbachev’s union treaty precipitated the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the creation of the new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Ukraine emerged from the Soviet Union’s dissolution as a strategically significant state. Its 700,000-strong armed forces are continental Europe’s second largest—nearly 50 percent larger than Germany’s Bundeswehr. That is even larger than British and French forces combined and two and a half times the size of the entire complement of U.S. forces in Europe. Moreover, although it has agreed to remove them, Ukraine still possesses tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.
Ukraine’s weight in post-Soviet geopolitics comes as a consequence of its large population (52 million). It is Europe’s second-largest state in terms of territory, an expanse that strategically hugs the shores of the Black Sea and divides Russia from its former east European satrapies: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The state is not only a major agricultural producer but also an industrial center, in 1990 accounting for 16 percent of the U.S.S.R.’s economic output.
Since its December 1, 1991, referendum, in which 90 percent of the population voted for independence, Ukraine has acted quickly to demarcate its sovereignty. It created its own army, moved to establish a currency, introduced the Ukrainian language into state offices and schools and secured diplomatic recognition from more than 100 countries. But the emergence of the new state has not been free of conflict—the most significant of which remains with Russia over disposition of nuclear weapons and control of the former Soviet Black Sea fleet. Remarkably, however, Ukrainian statehood was achieved without bloodshed or upheaval.
The loosely confederated CIS was cobbled together hastily on December 8, 1991, primarily to satisfy Ukrainian concerns. Yet Ukraine has turned out to be the Commonwealth’s most reluctant partner; from the outset Kravchuk pursued a policy aimed at ensuring a weak confederation. Ukraine consistently opposed attempts to create permanent CIS coordinating structures and blocked efforts to build a central CIS bureaucracy. All coordination, Kiev insisted, should come through bilateral and multilateral discussions among independent states. Kravchuk declined to attend the group’s May 15 summit.
The main theme of Ukrainian statecraft has thus been to define the contours of sovereignty and to assert and test that sovereignty at every turn. It has reminded the other new republics, as well as the rest of the world, that the CIS is no state or subject of international law. At the March 1992 CIS summit in Kiev, for instance, Kravchuk rejected all but four of 18 treaties and agreements proposed. The Ukrainian president was explicit in his intentions: "I would like history to record one day that Kravchuk was one of those that did much to break up the empire, that Ukraine played an enormous role in that."
Ukraine’s policies have already led to the fragmentation of what was the world’s second most powerful military establishment. Kravchuk triumphed in his stance that a unified CIS military endangered Ukrainian sovereignty. His position won the support of Moldova, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Uzbekistan, all of which are now forming their own armies. Ukraine’s persistence, too, forced Russia to create its own armed forces. The new Ukrainian state thus helped define the military structure of the post-Soviet world.
Questions of the military’s formation and loyalty are central to any assessment of the new Ukrainian state and its prospects for survival. Steps toward the creation of Ukrainian armed forces began even before the founding of the CIS; the Ukrainian parliament adopted laws on December 6, 1991, on formation of armed forces and national defense. Then on December 12, just four days after the historic meeting in Minsk that gave rise to the Commonwealth, Kravchuk decreed himself commander in chief of all nonstrategic military formations on Ukrainian territory. By January 3 Ukraine had begun establishing its own army.
As a result of the speed with which Ukraine established authority over its territorial forces, the military appears increasingly loyal. The main instrument for creating the Ukrainian military was an oath of allegiance to be taken by all servicemen stationed in Ukraine, including nonstrategic sections of that part of the Black Sea fleet based on Ukrainian territory.
The taking of the oath was initially impeded in Ukraine’s Carpathian, Kiev and Odessa military districts, and those Russian commanding officers were dismissed and replaced by ethnic Russians born in Ukraine. More than 40,000 soldiers who refused to take the oath were transferred to other republics. Thereafter, with the exception of the Black Sea fleet, the oath encountered few significant obstacles and was widely administered. In the first two weeks of January 250,000 troops took the oath, and in mid-March Ukraine extended the pledge to components of the CIS strategic force. By early April 483,000 officers and soldiers had sworn their allegiance.
The military’s loyalty also stems in part from the growing proportion of Ukraine’s own citizens that form army ranks. At the beginning of 1992 more than 55 percent of soldiers on Ukrainian territory were native born. That percentage has since been enhanced by the exchange of indigenous military personnel with other republics. Ukraine’s April-June military call-up, which likely yielded another 100,000 conscripts, will increase that proportion even further. All soldiers pledging loyalty to Ukraine are eligible for citizenship as well.
Kravchuk declared in March that Ukrainian servicemen would no longer serve in "trouble spots" of the former U.S.S.R.; all Ukrainian citizens could return to conclude their military service in the homeland. According to Izvestia, tens of thousands of Ukrainian officers and recruits have applied to return. Kravchuk insists he is ready to absorb all 400,000 Ukrainian citizens serving in military units outside the republic.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has become perhaps the most revolutionary part of the new state. Unlike most other Ukrainian departments, the entire Defense Ministry is new. It thus did not inherit the stultifying array of long-standing nomenklatura and functionaries or the many time-serving apparatchiks that populate other state agencies.
The defense ministry began its work in October 1991, a time when many regarded the prospects for a Ukrainian military as hopeless folly. Konstantin Morozov, a 48-year-old colonel general in the Soviet Air Force, resigned his commission to become defense minister. Of Russian-Ukrainian heritage, Morozov moved rapidly to "Ukrainianize" the military. He assembled a staff of military professionals and advisers, many from the democratic nationalist Rukh party and the radical Union of Ukrainian Officers. Created in 1990, the officers union today boasts 70,000 active members and reserves. It was thus able to offer Morozov strong technical assistance and has become an important informal instrument in winning the military’s loyalty to the new state.
Tasks of transforming troops into loyal forces, elaborating new missions and threat assessments, preparing for defense conversion and substantial demobilization would be daunting enough for any defense establishment. It is especially true for a military unsure of precisely how many troops are on its soil. The most reliable estimate of Ukrainian troop strength—the 700,000 figure—does not include border forces and the new national guard; the defense ministry has not yet completed its personnel census and inventory of matériel. CIS military officials, however, suspect that Ukraine wound up with much of the most advanced weaponry and technology of the Soviet arsenal.
Kiev has declared its intention to scale back Ukrainian forces to 200,000-300,000 over the next five years. That projected level would be well within the level accepted by most European powers. Ukrainian officials note that those reductions will be compensated by technological improvements, which should yield a military whose firepower matches that of the current level of forces.
No aspect of Ukrainian policy has attracted greater attention than its position on nuclear weapons. As of May 176 strategic intercontinental ballistic missiles with more than 1,600 nuclear warheads remained on Ukrainian soil. Presidents Kravchuk and Bush met in Washington in early May and agreed that Ukraine would rid itself of nuclear weapons by the end of the decade. That agreement, however, appeared to allow Ukraine to backtrack on earlier statements that the republic would remove all strategic nuclear weapons as early as the end of 1994. Kiev had also declared that all 4,000 tactical nuclear warheads would be removed by July 1992 and, with the exception of those with the Black Sea fleet, that has been accomplished.
In April 1992 parliament reconfirmed Ukraine’s intention to be a neutral, nonnuclear state. The process of denuclearization has nonetheless had many starts and stalls. Exercising its new sovereignty, Ukraine has insisted on control over all nuclear weapons on its soil, strategic as well as tactical. Although nuclear warheads remain under the jurisdiction of CIS command, Ukraine’s own control over some delivery systems ensures "nonuse."
Ukraine’s emphasis on sovereignty extends to treaties as well. In their May meeting Kravchuk and Bush also agreed on Ukrainian participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks agreement. The apparent contradiction—that an intended nonnuclear state should be party to a nuclear treaty—has raised doubts in Russia, as well as abroad, about Ukraine’s commitment to a denuclearized status.
In mid-March after more than half of its tactical nuclear warheads had already been removed from its territory, Ukraine stirred international alarm by announcing suspension of further weapons transfers to Russia. At issue, Ukrainian leaders asserted, were inadequate controls over the timely destruction of the warheads. The Ukrainian decision to suspend further transfers was also influenced by ominous rhetoric from Russian leaders concerning border revisions and by tension with Russia over possession of the Black Sea fleet.
Ukraine was reassured of sufficient Russian guarantees that the tactical warheads were indeed being destroyed, and Kiev resumed transferring warheads "for destruction under international supervision." Still, Ukrainian anxiety over Russia’s intentions remains and may plague the process of denuclearization. President Kravchuk demonstrated the depth of Ukrainian concern in late April, when he announced the republic’s intention to seek Western security guarantees in exchange for scrapping Ukrainian nuclear arms.
There is increasing sentiment on the fringes of the Ukrainian political establishment to keep the nuclear weapons. While the consensus within parliament and among major political groups is to proceed with missile destruction, any heightened Russo-Ukrainian tensions could reverse current attitudes.
The pace of Ukrainian economic reform has not nearly matched that of military reform; reform of Ukraine’s economy has consistently lagged behind Russia’s. But even reform-minded Ukrainian officials, such as Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Lanovoy, noted that Ukraine’s slower pace was probably inevitable: "Ukraine ... is unprepared for independent implementation of the reforms because its economy is not under full control of the state.... It is part of the economy of another state and is still regulated largely from Moscow."
Ukraine was a vital agricultural and industrial center of the former Soviet Union. It produced a quarter of meat products, 21 percent of dairy products, 80 percent of pasta, 55 percent of vegetable oil, 46 percent of canned vegetables and 30 percent of flour traded among the former republics. Ukraine produced 23 percent of the U.S.S.R.’s coal, 35 percent of its ferrous metal, 41 percent of rolled steel, nearly half its iron ore, 22 percent of bricks, 33 percent of televisions, 25 percent of computation and automation equipment, 22 percent of tractors, 31 percent of harvesters and 56 percent of rail cargo cars.
Thus the unavoidable problem has been that Ukraine’s economy is still largely intertwined with those of other former Soviet republics, most notably Russia. Ukrainian leaders argue that the new state cannot gain control of its economy and implement price reforms as long as Moscow controls the printing of rubles. Kiev has thus permitted circulation of "coupons" as a kind of unofficial currency that allowed Ukraine’s economy some autonomy. Ukraine will likely introduce its own official currency, the hryvnia, in the second half of 1992, expecting to make it convertible by the beginning of 1993.
Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a report issued March 24 by the Duma, a presidential advisory body, criticizing the fact that Ukraine’s financial, monetary and pricing policies continued to be managed "from afar." Ukraine, the report argued, remained unable to take serious independent decisions on economic matters. To avoid Ukraine’s being drawn into a single Russian-dominated economic complex, the report recommended gradually reducing imports from countries in the ruble zone, reorienting exports toward new markets, instituting taxes and charges "for all foreign facilities using Ukraine’s transport infrastructure," and controlling "customs tariffs and foreign economic activity along the length of the Ukrainian state border."
The pace of Ukraine’s economic change is likely to gather momentum, as President Kravchuk and most Ukrainian leaders favor fundamental economic reform. They are divided, however, over the specifics. Some leaders are deeply critical of Russia’s approach. Volodymyr Chernyak, an economist of the Rukh coalition, put it this way: "Neither in Russia nor in Ukraine is it possible to follow the classic IMF scheme. You cannot free prices as the cornerstone of reform." President Kravchuk, too, has emphasized that Ukraine could not survive the radical shock therapy tried in Poland. "We have to learn from the experience of other east European states," he said. "Ukraine will take its own path."
Although critical of Russia’s course, Ukrainian leaders are nonetheless committed to their own far-reaching economic restructuring. They believe that privatization must accompany any price reform, and parliament has passed sweeping laws that set the stage for such initiatives, proposing to privatize the commercial sector and small enterprises. Existing joint ventures have the right to repatriate their share of profits tax-free for five years; foreign stakes in new joint ventures will be exempt from taxes for the first three years of profitability. New laws also allow local governments to privatize housing and land. Still, many democrats believe that implementation of these reforms could be impeded by Prime Minister Vitold Fokin, Ukraine’s former planning chief.
Agricultural reform may also be in the offing. Kravchuk had relied on strong support from collective and state farm managers in his bid for the presidency. He now appears to have declared war against those entrenched interests. "We can no longer tolerate a situation where a vast [agro-industrial] administrative apparatus, having exhausted its usefulness, is preserved in its primitive form," he declared. Kravchuk also appointed a new minister of agriculture with close ties to parliament’s democratic bloc.
Progress has been made as well on the question of the U.S.S.R.’s hard currency debt. Until March 1992 Ukraine resisted attempts at collective responsibility for Soviet obligations. Ukrainian officials viewed the debt problem as linked to sovereignty: assuming partial responsibility for Soviet foreign debt was an infringement. Ukraine, it was argued, should be responsible for only Ukraine’s share of the debt. In the end Ukrainian objections were put aside, however, and the republic agreed to guarantee 21.13 percent of the former U.S.S.R. debt of $82 billion. Russia will take responsibility for the balance owed by it and other republics.
Another major economic issue—energy—promises to vex Ukrainian leaders in years ahead and to complicate issues of Ukrainian sovereignty. Ukraine imports 42 percent of its energy needs, mostly from Russia. Ukraine requires 60 million tons of oil and 115 billion cubic meters of natural gas. It satisfies, respectively, only 8 and 20 percent of those needs for itself. To reduce this dependency and prepare for Russia’s introduction of higher energy prices, Ukraine plans to economize on its generation of electricity by nearly 20 percent, to 220 billion kilowatt hours in 1992 from 270 billion in 1990.
Despite such economies Ukraine will remain extremely dependent on Russia for most of its oil and natural gas needs. Ukrainian leaders are thus seeking to diversify their sources of supply. One such source is the Middle East. Ukraine has already reached agreement with Iran and Azerbaijan to construct new pipelines to supply oil and natural gas to Europe. Iran, in turn, will supply nearly one-fifth of Ukraine’s natural gas and 10 percent of its oil requirements.
At the heart of Ukrainian statehood and the center of the formation of the Ukrainian state stands its president, Leonid Kravchuk. Yet he largely remains a mystery and anomaly.
Unlike Russian President Yeltsin, who immediately led strong resistance to the August putsch, Kravchuk vacillated in the first hours of the coup, urging Ukraine’s workers not to disrupt the normal rhythm of work. Only when the coup began unraveling did Kravchuk voice opposition to what he labeled an "unconstitutional act." In the coup’s aftermath Kravchuk portrayed his equivocations and caution as evidence of guile. By keeping Ukraine calm, he argued, he had succeeded in shielding the republic from a Moscow-based conflict.
Once director of ideology of the Ukrainian Communist Party and the party’s ideology secretary in 1989-90, Kravchuk became a fierce advocate of Ukrainian statehood. In the months before the December referendum and presidential election, Kravchuk was accused of playing to growing nationalist sentiments in his bid to gain high office. But once in power, observers believed, he would move quickly to shape some sort of union with the other republics. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In the aftermath of the failed August coup Kravchuk pursued a consistent policy aimed at securing Ukrainian independence.
Many trace Kravchuk’s political transformation to opportunism. Others point out that he was born to an Orthodox peasant family in the Volyn region of western Ukraine, a traditionally nationalist seat. Still others suggest Kravchuk has learned to appreciate the trappings of statehood, the ceremony of high office and the power that comes from legitimate popular support. Whatever his motives, however, he has been unwavering in the march toward Ukrainian statehood.
In the sphere of political reform the new Ukrainian president has been a study in contradictions. While opening the Ukrainian media and ending the intrusive surveillance of the old security apparatus, Kravchuk has been predisposed to trust those who formerly worked in Communist Party ranks. Virtually all his appointed ministers and advisers, even those from the democratic camp, are former communists. After parliament granted Kravchuk sweeping powers in March to reform local governments, three-quarters of his appointments as local presidential representatives were once apparatchiks, including numerous former regional and local party secretaries.
Democratic activists charge that such practices have slowed the pace of change and stymied many local legislatures and governments now in the hands of elected democrats.
Ukrainian politics has been characterized by a proliferation of small parties. Democratic forces, however, have coalesced around two major camps: Rukh and New Ukraine.
Rukh, or "movement," was created in 1989 and draws strongest support in western Ukraine and urban centers such as Kiev and Kharkiv. It claims 700,000 members and points to millions of others who took part in its mass actions on behalf of statehood. Led by former political prisoner Vyacheslav Chornovil—Kravchuk’s runner-up in the presidential race—Rukh is divided into two wings: a Chornovil-led majority that emphasizes the role of democratic opposition and a minority that believes Rukh should actively support Kravchuk as he works to consolidate Ukrainian statehood.
Chornovil has managed to maintain unity between those two poles by defining Rukh as a "constructive opposition"—backing the president when he advances statehood, criticizing him when he resists basic democratic and economic reforms. "We live in what at the grass-roots level is still a communist society," Chornovil has said. He notes that local authorities, especially in the collectivized countryside and many cities and towns, are still the same apparatchiks who tacitly backed the reactionary August coup. Now that statehood has been won, Chornovil argues, the major task is to build a civil society and to shape a democratic Ukraine.
The leaders of New Ukraine largely echo Chornovil’s approach. But while Rukh is led primarily by longstanding anticommunists, New Ukraine was created by activists who emerged from Democratic Platform, a reform faction that split from the Communist Party in mid-1990. New Ukraine offers strong support for Ukrainian statehood, but because many of its members are ethnic Russians or Ukrainians from Russophone regions, it downplays the kind of patriotic sloganeering and symbolism characteristic of Rukh. Instead New Ukraine prefers to highlight economic reform and the strengthening of civil society.
New Ukraine’s ranks include representatives of the reform wing of industry, the emerging business community, segments of academia and the scientific intelligentsia. This party also has two wings: liberal proponents of a free market and social democrats. Its leader, Volodymyr Filenko, believes such a dichotomy does not threaten the movement’s unity. "As in eastern Europe," he explained, "differences between the liberals and the social democrats will not emerge until a considerable amount of privatization has occurred."
Neither New Ukraine nor Rukh is likely to capture a majority in new parliamentary elections. Rukh would enjoy strongest support in western and central Ukraine; New Ukraine, with its many Russophone leaders, would draw significant support in the east and south. The dividing lines between Rukh and New Ukraine indicate Ukraine’s many regional differences—especially those cultural and political differences between the Uniate Catholic west, where passionate nationalist sentiments run high, and the Orthodox east, with its high proportion of Russians and Russian speakers.
The evolution of the Ukrainian independence movement, however, has thus far successfully traversed those breaches. By forging an inclusive, nonethnic conception of Ukrainian patriotism (defined as support for a Ukrainian state) and by wooing Ukraine’s Russian, Jewish, Polish and Hungarian national minorities, Rukh and other anticommunist movements have avoided the divisive ethnic politics that plagued many other non-Russian republics. Western Ukraine’s democrats largely tempered their nationalism and argued for Ukrainian statehood in pragmatic, economic terms. They thus avoided dividing the country into hostile camps. That approach, too, set the stage for cooperation between these two democratic movements.
While Ukrainian-Russian ethnic relations remain calm, state relations between Russia and Ukraine have been tense. Certain high-ranking Russian leaders have made statements questioning the current border with Ukraine. President Yeltsin’s press secretary, Pavel Voshchanov, suggested in December that the frontier between the two republics was yet to be resolved. These tensions were diffused after a quickly arranged high-ranking Russian mission visited Kiev.
But the issue was raised again in late January by Vladimir Lukin, then chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. In a widely publicized memorandum Lukin, now Russian ambassador to the United States, wrote that in order to secure the Black Sea fleet Russia should question Ukrainian patrimony over Crimea, a region ceded to Ukraine in 1954. Such a policy, argued Lukin, would help quell growing clamor from the Russian nationalist right, while pressuring Ukraine to abandon its claim on the fleet.
The publication of the Lukin memo and a subsequent resolution by the Russian Supreme Soviet to investigate the circumstances of Crimea’s transfer outraged Ukrainians. Kiev’s response was the March 12 announcement that it was suspending transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to Russia.
Relations worsened further in April after an unauthorized trip to Ukraine by Russian Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoy and State Counselor Sergei Stankevich, both of whom traveled to Sevastopol for a highly publicized visit to the Black Sea fleet. There Rutskoy, who has regularly criticized Yeltsin and attacked the putative surrender of "historical Russia," laid claim to Crimea and the Black Sea fleet. President Kravchuk in turn decreed on April 6 that the fleet was under Ukrainian jurisdiction. A day later Yeltsin issued his own decree authorizing Russia’s takeover of the fleet. Finally on April 8 cooler heads prevailed: each leader rescinded his decree, and they established a joint parliamentary commission to resolve the dispute.
The two sides, however, are far from agreement. Ukraine’s claim to the bulk of the Black Sea fleet issues largely from nonstrategic considerations. Ukraine has neither the inclination nor the capability to maintain anything approximating a 300-ship navy. The dispute over the Black Sea fleet is viewed by Kiev as a matter of protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and affirming its hold on Crimea. Securing a navy, which could in part be sold off, is also seen as a source of desperately needed hard currency.
The CIS and Russia have offered Ukraine 20 percent of the fleet; Kiev insists on control of 91 percent of all ships and submarines within Ukrainian territory. Yet Ukrainian leaders are likely to prove flexible and may agree to split the difference, provided Russia reaffirms its respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia in turn will probably seek some sort of base agreement to secure use of Sevastopol or some other Ukrainian port for the CIS strategic component.
Most of the tension surrounding Crimea is fanned by the dispute over the Black Sea fleet, but the Crimean dispute as such could well survive any Russo-Ukrainian agreement on the fate of the navy. A popular Crimean republican movement has agitated for independent statehood for the peninsula. The movement has gathered more than 200,000 signatures in support of a referendum on Crimean independence, scheduled for August 2. A reliable poll conducted in early February shows public sentiment in the Crimea to be fragmented: 42 percent support remaining an autonomous republic linked to Ukraine; 15 percent favor its return to Russia; 22 percent support a sovereign Crimean republic within the CIS; 8 percent favor complete independence.
The Crimean parliament heightened tensions on May 5, 1992, by adopting an ambiguous declaration of independence, an action the Ukrainian parliament subsequently annulled. The Crimean parliament appeared to back away from its earlier decision, but on May 21 the Russian parliament, while reaffirming current borders, threw the dispute into greater turmoil by voiding the 1954 transfer of the Crimea and calling for negotiations over the peninsula’s future.
Ukrainian leaders view ill-considered or provocative remarks by Russian officials as part of a pattern of Russian conduct that has plagued Ukraine for centuries. State relations are seen in terms of Russia’s historical domination of Ukraine, and today’s Ukrainian leaders are determined that history should not repeat.
Kravchuk and other Ukrainian officials understand that Russian President Yeltsin himself has never questioned Ukraine’s current borders. Yeltsin aides say that the Russian president is committed to honoring a 1990 treaty with Ukraine that confirms existing frontiers. Ukrainian officials, however, aware of increasingly shrill opposition to Yeltsin in Russia, question his durability in office.
Yeltsin has made clear that a major component of Russia’s democratic and Western-oriented foreign policy is a turn away from empire and from the use of force. Yeltsin told the Congress of People’s Deputies on April 7 that Russia "was parting with the remnants of ideologized thought and messianic ideas." He added that "work to strengthen Russia’s international position ... by no means amounts to an attempt to usurp the role of a superpower." Russia, Yeltsin assured them, would pursue "radical change" that sees a "relative decline in the role played by military power."
Yeltsin’s tenure holds out the promise of stability and peace, but there are powerful political forces in Russia aligned against his democratic course. Vice President Rutskoy, Yeltsin’s constitutional successor, has emerged as a strong voice of a "Great Russia" that is "single and indivisible." According to one Yeltsin aide, Rutskoy’s ghostwriters include Aleksandr Prokhanov—editor of the reactionary weekly Den—and the neofascist writer Yuri Bondarev. One of Rutskoy’s main policy advisers is Iona Andronov, a former journalist known for his anti-dissident and anti-Western essays.
A coalition of "patriotic forces" in Russia has been forged between neocommunists like Sergei Baburin and anticommunists like Christian Democrat Viktor Aksyuchits and Constitutional Democrat Mikhail Astafiev. That coalition dominated much of the voting in April at the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies and nearly jeopardized economic reform. Other democratic leaders, including Nikolai Travkin of the Democratic Party of Russia and St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, also oppose Yeltsin’s policy of building a state based on a Russian federation and instead support restoration of a federated union based on the CIS.
Much of the current Russian political establishment thus favors resurgent anti-Western sentiments and revival of "great power" Russian nationalism. Certainly the economic transformation of Russia—a nation of vast territorial expanse with an unwieldy military-industrial complex and a potentially explosive mix of Slavs and Asians—is likely to prove far more vexing than that of Ukraine. Other factors work against Russian stability as well. Tens of millions of Russians live beyond Russia’s own borders, many in the Muslim Central Asian states. Potential pressures on ethnic Russians may produce a flow of emigrants from those regions, further taxing a Russian economy already undergoing a difficult transition to the market.
While its central preoccupation has been Russia, Ukraine nevertheless has moved quickly to signal the contours of a broader foreign policy. The focal point of that policy is Ukraine’s desire to secure full-fledged membership in democratic Europe. Ukraine has made clear that it seeks eventual entry into the structures of the European Community. Toward that end it seeks membership as the fourth partner in the Vysegrad process, through which Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia are seeking to coordinate their own passage into "Europe."
A cornerstone of Ukrainian policy has been its insistence on the permanence of existing borders. The new state is an important presence in central and eastern Europe, sharing borders with Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia, Belarus and Moldova as well as the Black Sea coastline with Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Georgia.
Relations with Poland and Hungary are strongest. Poland was first to recognize Ukraine’s independence, and activists from the Solidarity movement had offered technical and material assistance to Rukh. Hungarian President Arpád Göncz has visited Kiev, and the two states have signed a military cooperation agreement. Relations with the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic are cordial, if complicated by unfounded Czech worries that Ukraine might support Slovakia’s bid for independence.
With the exception of Russia, Romania looms as the greatest potential danger to Ukrainian borders. The Romanian parliament has made territorial claims on Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, which were awarded to Ukraine by Stalin. Ukraine has tried to defuse the issue by staying out of Romania’s conflict with Moldova over the Slavic Trans-Dnestr region, noting that the dispute is a matter for Moldova to resolve. In this way Ukraine hopes to win Moldova’s and Romania’s goodwill. By respecting Romanian and Moldovan borders, Kiev apparently hopes for eventual reciprocity.
Another focal point of Ukrainian foreign policy will be relations with countries with substantial Ukrainian diaspora.
Those nations include the United States, where there are 750,000 Americans of Ukrainian ancestry; Canada, with 700,000 ethnic Ukrainians; and Brazil, with more than 200,000. There are also a quarter million Ukrainians in Poland and substantial Ukrainian communities in Britain and Australia. Relations with Israel, which was quick to recognize the new Ukrainian state, warmed in the last year, helped by a solemn week-long commemoration in October 1991 of the massacre of Jews in Kiev’s Babi Yar.
Regrettably the West has relegated Ukraine to the back burner. Yet growing opposition in Russia to Yeltsin’s three-pronged policy of democratic change, economic reform and withdrawal from empire argues against making Russia the focal point of the West’s post-Soviet policies. While everything should be done to shore up Yeltsin and Russia’s democratic forces, Ukraine deserves a closer look as a potential anchor of stability in eastern Europe.
When they met in May 1992 Presidents Kravchuk and Bush signed accords extending most-favored-nation trading status to Ukraine and providing insurance for U.S. businesses that invest in the new republic. Kravchuk’s trip to Washington raised U.S.-Ukrainian relations to a higher profile, but its status was merely a "working visit" rather than a "state visit" like that scheduled for President Yeltsin in June.
Ukraine is eager to win the approval of the industrialized democracies, as its renewal of shipments of tactical nuclear weapons to Russia and its commitment to nonproliferation suggest. Yet President Bush has set out an aid program with specific assistance to Russia for currency stabilization and none for Ukraine’s own monetary unit. Likewise, the IMF’s capital quota for Russia is nearly sixty percent greater per capita than Ukraine’s. Even the emphasis on providing food assistance to Russia works to Ukraine’s disadvantage: it makes Russia less dependent on Ukrainian imports while making no efforts to reduce Ukraine’s own dependence on those exports. A more balanced Western aid package would provide assistance to make Ukraine more energy efficient and less dependent on imported fuel. Such an aid package should be crafted to ensure equity in levels of aid and loan assistance.
Ukraine has few of the ethnic, political and cultural divisions that will likely plague Russia in years ahead. It has nothing like Russia’s simmering separatist movements, as in Chechnia and Tatarstan. While Ukrainians and Russians (73 and 21 percent, respectively, of Ukraine’s population) represent different nations, their common Slavic roots argue for a stable ethnic mix. Moreover, with the exception of Crimea, all of Ukraine’s oblasts have Ukrainian majorities. Ukrainian politics is dominated by pro-Western movements and leaders. Ukraine’s most skilled communist officials were frequently taken for service in Moscow; its remaining communist elite was thus less skilled and has proven less durable than Russia’s.
Civil society is emerging in both Russia and Ukraine. In Russia, however, it is increasingly divided into irreconcilable camps reflecting the traditional fault lines of Russian intellectual life—between democratic Westernizers and imperialist Slavophiles. In Ukraine most emerging structures of civil society share a democratic orientation. Many of the new and numerous language, ecological, cultural, trade union and political movements were born in the struggle for statehood and against totalitarianism. Extremist and irredentist Ukrainian nationalist groups are weak, even in the more nationalist west. Public-opinion sampling suggests far lower support in Ukraine for the return of an authoritarian iron hand and far more durable support for democratic rule.
A pro-Western Russian democracy may well triumph, but democracy and a pro-Western orientation are significantly more likely to endure in Ukraine. In time a stable and democratic Ukraine, linked to democratic Europe, could act as a conduit for democratic ideas to the east; a Western-oriented Ukraine, with its large Russian population, could engage Russia in the west. If Russia were to fall prey to a revival of obscurantism and imperialism, Ukraine would also become a welcome buffer for the new democracies of east-central Europe. Above all a free and pro-Western Ukraine would deprive a newly aggressive Russia of its capacity to reassert superpower control over its former satellites. Bolstering a strong pro-Western Ukrainian democracy and assisting a stable Ukrainian state, materially and technically, would not only benefit Ukrainians but the entire democratic West.