Ukraine's Foreign Policy after the Orange Revolution

Point of View column by Fulbright-Kennan Scholar Oleksandr Merezhko

Mar 05, 2005

The democratic Orange Revolution in Ukraine had a tremendous effect upon the political climate not only in Ukraine, but also on global affairs. It proved that the will of the people genuinely matters, despite the Kuchma government's attempts to manipulate public opinion. But the major lesson other countries can learn from this experience is that peaceful, nonviolent resistance can send an effective message and oust authoritarian regimes.

The Orange Revolution will impact Ukraine's relations with its three key partners: Russia, the United States, and Europe. Russia and Ukraine, figuratively speaking, remind me of Siamese twins. Russia historically has been, and will remain, Ukraine's closest strategic partner. It is especially important, after President Putin's overt support of Viktor Yanukovich during the election campaign, that Russia and Ukraine try to mend fences and build new relations based on mutual respect, noninterference in internal affairs, and recognition of Ukraine's right to pursue closer relations with the European Union.

Ukrainian-U.S. relations seem more uneven. Ukraine views America as a guarantor of its political independence; however, Ukraine intends to withdraw its military contingent from Iraq. Even though this decision may negatively impact bilateral relations, it reflects the Ukrainian leadership's independence in setting policy in accordance with its national interest. Ukraine's political elite recognizes that, for the United States, Russia is a higher priority than Ukraine. As a result, Ukraine must develop a flexible foreign policy so it can skillfully balance relations with Russia and the United States while pursuing its national interests.

Regarding relations with Europe, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has made EU membership a strategic goal. Ukraine's new leadership intends to safeguard the country's status of EU associate member while trying to establish talks toward full-fledged membership. But to date, the EU continues to overlook Ukraine's membership, which may have serious repercussions for the future of Europe. If the EU continues to view Ukraine as a buffer zone between Europe and Russia, Europe and the West might find Ukraine sliding back into Russia's orbit.

Ukraine's revolution can be viewed as a dynamic process, the ultimate goal of which is to replace authoritarian rule with a more transparent and liberal political system. Many also hope the new leadership will transform Ukraine's criminal oligarchic economy into a more liberal version of a free-market economy. The Orange Revolution initiated a new chapter in Ukraine's history, and has given Ukraine a unique chance to shape its future on the basis of true democracy and social justice at home and on stable and secure relations with its neighbors.