Mr. Obama, for Ukraine’s sake, tear down this wall!

July 3, 2009
Anthony T. Salvia, Special to Kyiv Post

U.S. President Barack Obama would do well to ditch the idea of Ukrainian admission to NATO — for the sake of NATO and, above all, Ukraine. It is also a major irritant in U.S.-Russian relations, which have gone seriously awry since the halcyon days of President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

Ukrainian accession to the military alliance would signal America’s definitive rejection of the Reagan-Gorbachev quest for stability in the heart of Europe, based on a concert of the pan-European states, great and small. Instead, the United States appears intent on ringing down a new Iron Curtain across Europe in the form of a nuclear tripwire stretched between Russia and Ukraine.

What was created by the architects of Atlantic solidarity as a mechanism for containing (not destroying) Soviet (not Russian) power, would take on an undeniably and specifically anti-Russian cast — an absolutely fateful step for NATO, the United States, and, above all, Ukraine.

If it were to join NATO, Ukraine would be enlisting in a crusade to encircle a fraternal nation, a co-inheritor of Saint Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv, with a view to its ultimate dismemberment (remember the fate of Serbia.) Ukraine seeks to bolster its sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia, and understandably so. But is it really in Ukraine’s interest to provoke Moscow in this way?

And the United States would be pitting a small nation against the nuclear-armed superpower next door, while handing it a security guarantee it (the United States) cannot possibly honor. Is such an arrangement really prudent? Is it really an act of friendship towards Ukraine?

Last August, Georgia and Russia went to war over South Ossetia. Had Ukraine and Georgia been NATO members at the time (as they and the U.S. had hoped), they might well have found themselves at war with Russia by virtue of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which holds an attack against one to be an attack against all.

We cannot analyze here how the Reagan-Gorbachev quest for a pan-European entente degenerated into a mad U.S. scramble for hegemony. Suffice it to say that Washington’s Ukrainian gambit is a raw deal for all concerned, not least Ukraine.

Rather than face off with a fraternal Orthodox state across a nuclear tripwire, Kyiv would be better advised to drop its NATO bid. A more attractive option would be membership in the European Union.

France and Germany would initially oppose such a move on grounds that Ukraine does not meet the criteria for accession (too big, too poor, too corrupt), but may be susceptible to persuasion. Here the U.S. can and should engage Brussels (and Paris and Berlin) on Kyiv’s behalf.

To facilitate Franco-German openness to the idea, it would help if Kyiv explicitly abandoned its bid to join NATO. Paris and Berlin might well find Ukrainian accession to the EU a reasonable price to pay for avoiding a major conflict with Moscow, especially if it can offer Kyiv not an outright guarantee of membership, but a non-binding “road map” setting forth membership criteria to be met by a date certain.

Joining the EU would give Ukraine a constructive national purpose. It would unite society — including the nation’s fractious political class — around a project that would redound to Ukraine’s long-term prosperity.

In addition, it would enhance the nation’s sovereignty (in relation to Moscow, if not Brussels), even while diverting Ukraine and Russia from the collision course they would surely be on if Kyiv were to seek NATO entry.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is still sounding the call, even in the face of Washington’s complete indifference, for entente cordiale among the states of the Northern Hemisphere (Europe, the U.S. and Russia), comprising a new security architecture that would guarantee all European borders—including Ukraine’s.

Such an entente, based on the shared moral, intellectual and spiritual patrimony of Rome, Athens, Jerusalem and Constantinople, is the key to reviving pan-European civilization and countering the challenge posed by a rising China and a resurgent jihadist movement within Islam. This is the way to go for Europe, the U.S., Russia and Ukraine.

If Obama would be willing to take advice from an old Reaganite and veteran of the climactic years of the Cold War, one eager to preserve Reagan’s greatest legacy— the overcoming of the division of Europe into hostile camps -- I would advise this:

Mr. Obama, tear down this wall! Before it ever gets built.