Commentary

Distinguishing Friends from Adversaries

This article was published in the Korea Herald, Sept. 25, 2003.

The Bush administration continues to press for assistance from other nations in Iraq, but without notable success. Both Germany and Russia now indicate a willingness to help, but not with troops. “It’s not even being considered now,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin in advance of his summit with George W. Bush.

Although a number of U.S. analysts agree with former world chess champion Garry Kasparov that Moscow is no friend of America, Mr. Putin still receives kindly treatment in Washington, in contrast to that of another member of the former Soviet Union which has been more helpful: Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma supported the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and recently deployed 1,800 troops there. But because his rule, like that of Mr. Putin, has been tainted by charges of corruption and abuse of power, the Bush administration has kept Kiev out in the cold.

Balancing security and human rights concerns has never been easy. Washington supported a cohort of repressive dictatorships while confronting the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The Bush administration understandably, if uncomfortably, ignored human rights violations in such allied states as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia while prosecuting the war on terrorism. And Washington seems unconcerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin combines hostility towards America with only semi-democratic rule.

In contrast, Kiev has done much to please the U.S. Ukraine abandoned its nuclear arsenal, left over after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

When the Bush administration decided to kill the ABM treaty two years ago, Ukraine offered its support. Kiev sent a 450-member chemical decontamination brigade to Kuwait before the war, opened its airspace for allied flights and helped airlift supplies during the conflict.

Moreover, Kiev has been addressing complaints involving trade and intellectual property. Former U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual referred to a policy of “small steps.” Most recently President Kuchma appointed Ukraine’s ambassador to America, Konstantin Grischenko, as foreign minister.

Yet President Kuchma has been burdened by a barrage of unflattering charges and unremitting political opposition at home. Kuchma even was accused of allowing the sale of Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions. No such equipment turned up after America’s victory, though Washington remains suspicious that Kuchma approved the deal.

Washington will be tempted to meddle in Ukraine’s election next year. Kuchma says that he isn’t running and the list of possible successors is long. Opposition figures generally have been best received in the United States, both in the human rights community and government circles.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, a Kuchma appointee ousted by the previous parliament, is perceived as a pro-Western democrat. Yet of late he has spoken of the need for a good Ukrainian-Russian relationship. Yushchenko and a sizable minority of his party opposed deployment of the chemical weapons specialists; he supported sending occupation troops to Iraq but most of his supporters voted against.

Former cabinet minister Yulia Timoshenko has been portrayed as a reformer but faces corruption charges at home. Moreover, she has joined the socialist and communist parties in forthrightly opposing any Ukrainian role in Iraq.

Rather than playing politics in Ukraine, Washington should focus on encouraging Kiev to integrate itself more effectively into the world economy. After a decade of dismal performance Ukraine’s economy is finally growing and Kiev is attempting to spur more foreign investment.

Ukraine is pressing to join NATO. Better would be freer trade with America, membership in the World Trade Organization and accession to the European Union. Bizarrely, U.S. commerce with Kiev is still restricted by the Cold War Jackson-Vanik Act.

Washington should remove this restrictive Soviet-era law and encourage Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization. Prosperity would help speed economic reform in Ukraine and build civil society, so necessary for democratic reforms to take root.

Moreover, this approach would help cement Ukraine’s ties to the West. In mid-September Ukraine, Russia and two other former republics in the old Soviet Union signed an agreement to create a customs union of sorts called the United Economic Space. Former Ambassador Pascual warned in his farewell speech of an “internal tug-of-war” over “Ukraine’s place in Europe.”

Attempts by Washington to micromanage the economic and political processes in foreign countries are never easy. Doing so in Ukraine is particularly complicated, since the politicians perceived as more democratic have been less supportive of U.S. policy.

With elections in the offing Washington would best keep its hands off the political process while pushing for greater economic liberalization by turning Kiev into America’s economic partner. A prosperous Ukraine integrated into the world community is more likely to be a free Ukraine friendly to the West.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.