Events in Ukraine are progressing faster than anyone can analyze them – as I write, the de facto president of Ukraine, a Tymoshenko ally named Oleksander Turchynov, has announced a desire for closer integration with Europe. I have discussed this on 4&20 earlier on a couple of occasions, but I’m going to take lizard’s advice and write my own post about why Ukraine ought to seek closer relations with the EU, not with Russia.
1) Economics – Russia has a well defined sphere of influence, and the countries therein are almost universally worse off than those countries aligned with the EU. Compare the economic progress of Russia and Belarus to that of Poland and the Baltic States – EU membership has incredible benefits, both in terms of total GDP and in key human development indicators – including economic equality, human rights and environmental conditions. While Russia has offered lump sums of cash, the EU presents opportunities for economic diversification and long term, targeted aid.
2) Sovereignty – Russia is over twice the size (population) of Ukraine, and dwarfs its pseudo-satellites Kazakhstan and Belarus as well. Inevitably this means that Ukrainian freedom of action is hindered by its relationship with Russia (this is exacerbated by its economic dependence). In the EU, however, Ukraine would be one of many countries its approximate size, and the structure of the EU gives its members substantial sovereignty guarantees. Relationships between the EU and member states, moreover, are constrained by set rules. Therefore, EU efforts to impact Ukraine’s internal decision-making would undoubtedly be limited. Russian efforts, on the other hand, have been and will continue to be exceedingly powerful.
3) Democracy – the EU has provided powerful incentives against political backsliding. By requiring high standards for democratic governance, the EU has taken formerly authoritarian, fascist, and communist regimes and has universally prevented their reversion to undemocratic forms of governance. Stability in Ukraine would benefit from a similar democratic incentive.
As to the question of what extent the US should be actively involved in this – I think the answer is that to the extent that we extended moral and material support to Ukraine, we’re already skating on thin ice as far as appropriate relations between sovereign nations. However, the US and EU should match Russian cash incentives previously offered, and the US ought to encourage Europe to fast-track economic integration of Ukraine that will help build connections between Ukraine and Western Europe. It is important to remember that, according to many analysts, it was the EU’s dilatory approach to Ukrainian integration that made Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko’s foreign policy unsustainable the first time around.