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Ukraine and Russia: Ever Closer Neighbors?

Ukraine and Russia: Ever Closer Neighbors?

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When he took power in the spring of 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was widely seen as a pro-Russian politician inclined to seek compromises with Moscow. Both sides expected his presidency to result in a normalization and stabilization of relations between Russia and Ukraine. Symbolic gestures such as the signing of the Kharkiv agreement, Ukraine’s renunciation of its aspirations for NATO membership, and a number of high-level visits between the two capitals seemed to confirm this initial impression. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the current Ukrainian president, like all of his predecessors, will not toe Moscow’s line and relations between the two countries are slowly but surely sliding into deadlock.
When he took power in the spring of 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was widely seen as a pro-Russian politician inclined to seek compromises with Moscow. Both sides expected his presidency to result in a normalization and stabilization of relations between Russia and Ukraine. Symbolic gestures such as the signing of the Kharkiv agreement, Ukraine’s renunciation of its aspirations for NATO membership, and a number of high-level visits between the two capitals seemed to confirm this initial impression. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the current Ukrainian president, like all of his predecessors, will not toe Moscow’s line and relations between the two countries are slowly but surely sliding into deadlock.

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Published by: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Jun 29, 2011
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Ukraine and Russia:Ever Coser Neibors?
June 8, 2011
Oa Sumyo-Taioa
 When he took power in the spring of 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was widely seen as a pro-Russian politician inclined to seek compromises with Moscow. His predecessor, Viktor Yuschenko, left behinda legacy of mutual distrust and hostility with the Kremlin, as well as a seriesof trade and gas wars. Many in Ukraine and Russia hoped and expected Yanukovych’s election to result in a stabilization of relations between the twocountries and for the “cold war” between Moscow and Kyiv to be replaced by a friendly, constructive, and pragmatic relationship. There was an initial thawing of relations between the two countries,marked by the signing of the Kharkiv agreement, which prolonged thelease for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea in exchange for cheapergas, Ukraine’s renunciation of its aspirations for NATO membership,and a number of high-level visits between the two capitals. A year into Yanukovych’s presidency, however, relations between the two countries areslowly but surely sliding into deadlock. While Moscow responded positively, if cautiously, to Yanukovych’s rstofcial visit to Brussels, the Ukrainian president’s European aspirations,and specically his desire to conclude negotiations on the Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), have caused considerable disquietin the Kremlin. It is not rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU inand of itself that worries Moscow so much as the Ukrainian leadership’sunpredictability as a partner. Russian experts argue that Ukraine’s leadershipand elite send confusing messages to Moscow and the country remainsRussia’s most unpredictable partner in the post-Soviet space.By and large Ukrainians expected Yanukovych to emulate former presidentLeonid Kuchma’s strategy of balancing the country’s relations with theEU and Russia, seeking to gain equally from both partners. However,
 
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Many inUkraine andRussia oedfor te “codwar” betweenMoscow andKyiv to bereaced bya friendy,constructive,and ramaticreationsi.
from the very beginning of his term in ofce, Yanukovych proved to be farmore protective of the national (read corporate) interests of Ukraine and thuspositioned himself as a Europhile. Yanukovych traveled extensively to EU capitals in a bid to convince Europeanleaders to disengage from Russia’s South Stream pipeline project, which would bypass Ukraine, transporting Russian gas to Europe via the Black Sea. In addition, he began to engage seriously with the question of Europeanintegration, privileging negotiations on Ukraine’s Association Agreement withthe EU, while snubbing the possibility of joining Belarus and Kazakhstan inMoscow’s Customs Union.It is becoming increasingly clear that the current Ukrainian president, like allof his predecessors, will not toe Moscow’s line and will therefore never satisfy Russia. Even when confronted with the interests of oligarchs, who want cheapergas from Russia, and by his own need for funds to overcome the currenteconomic crisis and reform the public sector, Yanukovych will not budge.Ukrainian businesses do not want to be taken over by their Russian competitorsand Yanukovych himself wants to remain the independent leader of a sovereignnation, not the governor of a Russian province. Whether Kyiv and Moscow will be able to overcome this deadlock and build astable and healthy relationship, therefore, remains open to question. The currentlevel of expectations on both sides, the lack of strategy, and the mutual distrustall suggest that relations between Ukraine and Russia will be fraught in thecoming years.
Never Enou: From te KarkivAreement to te Customs Union
In the ve years that followed Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution, Russiafelt abandoned and grew to resent Kyiv for the geopolitical, economic, historical,and cultural divides that emerged between the two countries. Moscow hadexpected that, under the leadership of Yanukovych, Ukraine would nd its way back to the fold, reconciling and building stronger ties with Russia. The Kremlin, however, did not seem to have a clear strategy for dealing withUkraine once Yanukovych took ofce. Moscow opted for tactical moves, starting  with settling the long-running and symbolically important issue of its Black SeaFleet. In addition, Moscow pursued some patchy sectoral cooperation projects,continued to pressure Kyiv on an ad-hoc basis on cultural issues—such asRussian language rights, common history, and religion—and pursued its grandintegration project of Ukraine joining the Customs Union.
 
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A year into Yanukovyc’sresidency,reationsbetween tetwo countriesare sowy butsurey sidininto deadock.
 Yanukovych, however, did not have a clear plan for how to rebuild relations with Moscow either. Despite much talk about the need to improve relations with Russia, there was no understanding in Ukraine of Moscow’s needs andexpectations. Consequently, many of Ukraine’s policies toward Russia werereactions to Moscow’s proposals or perceived Russian expectations and led tounpredictable results.
The Kharkiv Agreement
 The rst step toward rebuilding relations with Russia was made by Ukraine in April 2010, with the formal signing of the Kharkiv agreement by presidentsMedvedev and Yanukovych and its subsequent synchronized ratication by theparliaments of both countries. This agreement provided for the extension of Russia’s lease on facilities in the port of Sevastopol, home to its Black Sea Fleet,until 2042 and in return gave Ukraine a 30 percent discount on Russian gas. Yanukovych claimed that this move was a response to his electoral promises of improving relations with Russia and addressing Ukraine’s energy supply problems. The agreement has been widely seen as a diplomatic victory for Russia. Moscow saw that Ukraine’s incoming president was in dire need of money and sold thedeal to him on the basis that it would give him the necessary nancial breathing room to focus on domestic reforms. Concretely, the agreement allowed Russiato extend its presence in Ukraine, and, Gazprom’s current nancial troublesnotwithstanding, the discount for gas was not a big loss and was a price Russia was ready to pay for the twenty-ve-year lease extension. The agreement sought to rebuild relations by taking pressure off issues that were uncomfortable for Russia. Moscow was able to send a clear signal to the West that Russia still saw Ukraine as a natural part of its sphere of interest,a message the Kremlin felt it particularly needed to convey after the 2004Ukrainian presidential elections. The agreement also fed the illusion in Moscow that, despite opposition protests at home and astonished reactions in the West, Yanukovych would be ready to go further and accommodate Russia’s needs.Kyiv saw the agreement as a one-off that could improve relations with Russiaand dissuade Moscow from pressuring Ukraine for deeper integration. Yanukovych seemed to think that by responding to Russia’s symbolic needto maintain a presence in Crimea, he could gain economically through a gasdiscount, killing two birds with one stone.Ukrainian negotiators believed that, should they grant a twenty-ve-year leaseextension to the Black Sea Fleet, Russia would be compelled to reciprocate by providing cheaper gas for a longer period. However, Yanukovych chose to deal with Medvedev, cutting Putin out of the talks. As a result, Russia opted to makemore modest concessions, offering a small and rather illusionary discount.

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