Holbrook, Kalicki, M Brzezinski:"stakes could not be higher"(/)

09/28/2004 | Sztefan von Seitz
COMMENT: Ukraine-U.S. relations hinge on fall elections

September 27, 2004



Americans are increasingly focused on our pivotal presidential choice on Nov. 2. But many may not be aware that partway around the world, at the doorstep of an expanded Europe, the citizens of Ukraine will be making an important choice in their Oct. 31 elections for president.

Ukrainians will decide whether a pro-Western reformer, Viktor Yushchenko, or a pro-Russian statist, Viktor Yanukovich, will be elected. That choice is theirs and theirs alone to make. But friends of Ukraine can certainly express concern about issues at stake.

The first issue is the freedom and fairness of the election process -- to ensure that the power of the incumbent president, who cannot run again, is not mobilized to suppress open debate and unfettered choice. There is reason for concern, because oligarchic interests will likely try to stack the political deck, and to protect ill-gotten gains from past and pending privatizations.

The second issue affects the United States even more directly, for Ukrainians will decide whether to support those who favor integration into NATO and the European Union, or those who favor realignment with Russia and Belarus, the latter already under the sway of an unsavory dictator.

After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma amended his government's national security doctrine to turn away from NATO and the EU. The impact was felt immediately: Instead of continuing to plan to transport Caspian oil from the Black Sea to central Europe and eventually the Baltic, Kuchma now plans to transport Russian oil to the Black Sea and further congest the environmentally sensitive Turkish Straits.

Both the EU and the Turkish government have expressed deep concern about this development. But the Bush administration has been largely silent. Our European and Turkish allies recognize the stakes. Will a country of 48 million people, almost the size of Texas, have the opportunity to pursue a common destiny with its neighbors to the north and west? Or will Ukraine take a course in which new lines could be drawn across post-Cold War Europe? Will energy flows continue to be subject to control by Russian monopolies, or will they reach markets competitively and support the freedom of Ukraine and the Caspian states?

Strategically located between a newly assertive Russia and an expanded NATO and EU, Ukraine can be a bridge to increased cooperation between these two realms. Or it can create new grounds for division. What remains to be seen is whether this pivotal European country will take the path of reform or the path of increased state control. This decision will impact a similar drama being played out between reformers and statists across the vast expanse of Russia itself. The most important interest here is to create durable political, economic and security ties engaging the Euro-Atlantic community with both Russia and Ukraine.

Americans can make clear where we stand: with those in Ukraine supporting free and democratic choice. With our European allies, we can make clear that EU and NATO doors are open if Ukrainians choose the path of integration and reform. But this brings us back to our own elections in November. There is one candidate who believes in democratic action, rather than ideology, and favors making common cause with our allies. There is another who has failed to do so, to the great detriment of America's vital national security interests. The stakes in the United States, as in Ukraine, could not be higher.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE is former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. JAN KALICKI served as a White House counselor in the Clinton administration. MARK BRZEZINSKI served on the National Security Council as director for Russia/Ukraine. Write to them in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.

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