Ukraine hedges

An analytical article titled "Reforms stall as Kyiv straddles policies of East and West" (see page 2) makes the point that Ukraine today continues to hedge. The administration of President Leonid Kuchma refuses to make a clear choice between aligning itself with the West or with Russia. Indeed, Kyiv's vacillation has resulted in stagnation on the path to all-around reform - both politically and economically, little has truly changed in Ukraine. As Marius Vahl of the Brussels-based Center for European Studies in Brussels put it: "they are [conducting reforms] at a rhetorical level. ... [Kuchma's] ... been saying that he wants to do reforms for many, many years and quite little has been done, especially compared to most of [Ukraine's] neighbors."

To be sure, there have been some improvements, like the growing activity of non-governmental organizations in Ukraine - one of the signs of a developing civil society, but then there are other less promising signs, like the continuing lack of press freedom and incidents of media censorship. In addition, there are instances when Ukraine, following what has been described as its "multi-vector" foreign policy, tips toward the West, for example, Ukraine's most recent decision to send its troops to participate in peacekeeping operations in Iraq, and others when it tips toward Russia, as in the case of Kyiv's involvement with the Commonwealth of Independent States, with President Kuchma currently serving as the head of the CIS Council of Heads of State.

Lately, however, it seems the tilt seems to be toward the United States. Both the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post published articles last month indicating that, in response to Kyiv's decision to join the U.S.-led stabilization force in Iraq, the United States is now changing its tune toward Ukraine. The Kolchuha issue, both newspapers agree, has now been muted.

Ukraine's participation in Iraq's stabilization has led also to some speculation about Kyiv's future alignments. Addressing such suppositions, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Carlos Pascual, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying: "Some have speculated that if Ukraine might provide deployments in Iraq, then perhaps the United States and NATO would ignore transgressions of democratic values in Ukraine. The answer is, unequivocally, 'No.' " As reported in The Weekly last week, the U.S. envoy emphasized in a farewell address that the quality of Ukraine's democracy and its adherence to the rule of law are " two fundamental issues" that will determine its success in joining NATO and the European Union. The Kuchma administration, we must add, has done far too little on those fronts; thus, true reform remains unrealized.

But there is hope on the horizon. The next presidential elections are scheduled for October 2004, and President Kuchma has said he will not seek to change the Constitution of Ukraine so that he could run for a third term. Ukraine's electorate, one hopes, may yet elect the leader the country needs to secure its future.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 3, 2003, No. 31, Vol. LXXI

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