Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press
Release Date January 2009
Council Special Report No. 41
Many of the principal foreign policy challenges facing the new administration deal with the greater Middle East and Asia. Europe, by contrast, appears relatively stable. One potential exception, however, involves Ukraine. The largest country entirely within Europe, Ukraine has tremendous economic potential. It occupies a strategically vital position as the transit point for large amounts of Russian energy going to Europe. At the same time, its links to Russia, ranging from the ethnic and linguistic ties of much of its population to the continuing presence of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet off Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, complicate efforts to consolidate stable democratic practices and chart Ukraine’s course. Indeed, the prospect of Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO is a source of friction in U.S.-Russia relations as well as the subject of disagreement within NATO itself.
In this Council Special Report, commissioned by the Center for Preventive Action, Steven Pifer takes all these issues into account as he examines the many challenges facing Ukraine. The report comprehensively analyzes the country’s difficulties, related to both domestic conditions—for example, fractious politics and deeply divided public opinion—and foreign policy—for example, issues related to the Black Sea Fleet and Ukrainian and European dependence on Russia’s natural gas. The report then recommends ways for the United States to encourage Ukraine on a path of stability and integration with the West. It proposes measures to bolster high-level dialogue between Washington and Kiev, foster effective governance in Ukraine, and reduce Ukraine’s susceptibility to Russian pressure. On the crucial NATO question, the report urges the United States to support continued Ukrainian integration with the alliance, though it recommends waiting to back concrete steps toward membership until Kiev achieves consensus on this point. One need not agree with this judgment to find Pifer’s analysis of value. Averting Crisis in Ukraine takes a clear-eyed look at the issues that could cause instability—or worse—in Ukraine. But it also recommends practical steps that could increase the prospect that Ukraine will enjoy a prosperous, democratic, and independent future.