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Ukraine’s political infighting and tensions with Russia threaten its path to stability and integration with the West, warns a new Council Special Report. "A more divided Ukraine would be less able to formulate a coherent foreign policy course with which the U.S. government could engage; it could even be driven to reorient itself on a more Moscow-focused course," says report author Steven Pifer, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
On the crucial NATO question, the report, Averting Crisis in Ukraine, 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. "What happens to Ukraine will matter to Washington," says the report, sponsored by CFR’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA). It says that the U.S. administration, "should maintain the goal of Ukraine’s development as a stable, independent, democratic, and market-oriented country, increasingly integrated into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions."
Pifer analyzes the country’s difficulties related to domestic conditions—such as fractious politics, a deeply divided public opinion, and economic recession. He also examines Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy—including issues related to the continued presence and eventual withdrawal of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Ukrainian and European dependence on Russia’s energy, as well as Ukraine’s potential membership in NATO.
"The Kremlin believes that an unstable Ukraine is in its interest. Such instability makes Ukraine an unattractive political model for Russians as well as an unattractive candidate for NATO or the European Union," says Pifer.
The report encourages the Obama administration to adopt a strategy that includes:
- Restoring regular high-level dialogue. "The administration should restore a high-level channel with Kiev. ...This could ensure that bilateral problems are resolved in good time and offer a channel to convey candid, even tough, political messages."
- Counseling Ukrainian leadership. "Washington should quietly counsel [President Viktor] Yushchenko on choosing his fights with Russia in a difficult political year. ...Washington must ensure absolute clarity in Kiev as to how much support Kiev can expect if it gets into a confrontation with Moscow."
- Targeting technical assistance to promote economic opportunities in Sevastopol. "Drawing on the United States’ experience with military base closures, U.S. assistance should help to generate economic and business opportunities in Sevastopol so that the local economy does not face potential devastation by the Black Sea Fleet’s withdrawal."
- Increasing technical assistance to promote energy security. "Ukraine’s energy dependency on Russia creates a major vulnerability. Washington should target technical assistance to help Kiev adopt transparent arrangements for purchasing and transiting natural gas, expand domestic sources of energy production, and allow energy prices within Ukraine to rise to market levels to promote conservation and greater domestic energy production."
- Supporting NATO integration. "The Obama administration should continue to support Ukraine’s integration into NATO. However, given the political turmoil in Kiev and allied reluctance to approve a membership action plan (MAP)," the administration should wait to support Ukraine’s MAP until it achieves "a greater degree of internal coherence on the NATO question, and [also builds] support among the elite and broader population."
For full text of the report, visit: www.cfr.org/ukraine_report
Council Special Reports (CSRs) are concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contribute to debates on current policy dilemmas. CSRs are written by individual authors in consultation with an advisory committee. The content of the reports is the sole responsibility of the authors.
CFR’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA) seeks to help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.