Do NATO members really not want Ukraine, or do they not want another Russian energy crisis?

Viktor Yushchenko, the current President of Ukraine, said on April 18th (sorry I missed it earlier) that most members of NATO don’t want Ukraine as a member.

After all the work that went into defying Russia, having the Orange Revolution, placing Eastern Europe into a pro-Western condition, etc. why would Yushchenko say something like that? Further, if it is true that most NATO countries don’t want Ukraine as a member, why on earth would NATO pass up an opportunity to critically weaken Russia and place a perfect and possibly unsurmountable stumbling block in the way of another Soviet VS. West styled Cold War II? This does not make a lot of sense over the long-term, as Ukraine is fundamentally capable of adapting to and working within NATO, particularly since NATO does not have an actual mission anymore other than to identify who is “in” the Western club.

There are a few possibilities for why, I believe, and I’m not sure enough yet to state firmly that any one of them is correct.

  • Yushchenko is worried that Ukraine is changing too fast for its own good. Countries are not capable of complete change overnight. If they were, then all of the “developing” would would have developed quite a long time ago. In this case an already developed nation is trying to shift its orientation from East to West, but this may be more of a desire to become independent of Russian influence (read as: “dominance”) than a desire to actually become close to the West. Ukraine voted to join the WTO this month, and that may be far enough for now as far as Yushchenko is concerned.
  • Yushchenko is worried that moves beyond WTO membership will throw too much at Russia all at once and force the Russian hand to aggression. This is not an idle worry, as Russia has basically threatened to break-up Ukraine and take over parts of it through surrogate separatist groups. It does have Ukraine hemmed in from the east and the west militarily as well as having intimate contact with separatist elements in all of the former Soviet satellite States. Russia’s ability to spend little to achieve much in the way of civil, political and material destruction and chaos should never be underestimated.
  • NATO really does not want Ukraine, not because it is a bad idea to critically weaken Russia’s strategic foundation but because Europe is full of fundamentally weak-kneed nations which have lived under an American subsidized security blanket for over sixty years. The concept of “soft power” ruled until just recently and now Europe is pulling apart at the seams, each nation going for itself in the face of the breakup of the regional boogeyman: the Soviet Union. This among other reasons is seeing the demise of the E.U. as we know it, will likely eventually kill the Euro — but not before it reduces the smaller exporting nations to near poverty — and will definitely see the restructuring of Europe along ancient lines of pull-and-push power plays. Interestingly, the nation in Europe which is displaying strength and progressive thinking (other than the United Kingdom) is France. Germany is looking to make a splash on the international scene independent of Europe, but I do not see them as politically competent as France in the subtle games of solo foreign policy and as France is currently aligning itself with the U.S. (albeit for intelligent self interest) Germany will likely feel forced to “counter” this and fall upon its sword in doing so. Almost nobody in Europe other than France would have the gall to tell Russia to go eat crow while NATO gobbled up Ukraine, and further, almost no nation in Europe wants to face another Russian-inspired energy crisis. At least not until long after Europe has secured alternate sources of natural gas or comparable energy.
  • Somebody else has something better to offer Ukraine as a long-term alternative to NATO membership. What this could be, I have no clue. It certainly would not include a continued position as Russia’s prized toady and trophy vassal state. Along this line of thinking I have to imagine that the most likely form of this would be Ukraine having a better deal over the long term by becoming independent of any external control. Perhaps Ukraine sees itself as having significantly blocked Russian advances culminating in its own admission to the WTO and no longer fears Russia enough to desire the protection and yoke that NATO membership would entail.

In a way, I feel this last is the most likely factor in Yushchenko’s decision to state things the way he did, though he likely used the unwillingness of current European NATO to face another possible energy struggle with Russia as a chance for factual inflation. He did not exclude himself from wanting to join NATO in his statement, he did not ruin Ukraine’s chances with a single statement considering the referendum is still two years away (in 2010), but he did distance himself from certain membership in NATO and that leaves open the option of  await-and-see approach to feeling out Ukraine’s strength in a situation of near complete national independence from both Russia and NATO.

The situation is not entirely clear right now, but one thing is absolutely certain: What is happening in Ukraine today and over the next two to three years will shape the way the rest of the world looks in the coming Cold War II, whether such a Cold War will be a mini or major global struggle and further, what the inevitable world energy struggle will look like.

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