Ukraine’S Strategic Security – On A Crossroad Between Democracy And Neutrality

Nov 24th, 2006 | By | Category: In Depth, National Security, Ukraine


Alex Bogomolov, Maidan Alliance (

Over the past 15 years Ukraine has certainly become a much freer nation than many of its former Soviet neighbors. Yet, as this year’s events have demonstrated, the point of no return in the transition toward a sustainable democracy has not been passed. Elements of authoritarian culture are still preserved inside a number of institutions, notably, the security sector. There are powerful forces in the region working to undo the nascent democracy. The latter’s very institutional structure is as yet too incomplete to be immune from these challenges.

The Orange revolution has put Ukraine in front of multiple choices. It would be an oversimplification to reduce their complexity to a cultural choice formulated in terms of East/West dilemma or an issue of the nation’s political and geographical attribution – to Europe or some imaginary Eurasia. The dilemma is more complex in its nature and concerns the essence of numerous institutional and policy steps taken by a variety of actors at different levels as well as the relative timing of such steps, which altogether will define what kind of country we are going to have in the following several decades – a successful or a failed one, a democratic one or otherwise. In the security perspective, the most important highlights currently include accession to NATO, development of state institutions, including the security sector, developing a consistent regional policy and finally ensuring sustainability of the nation’s political development toward full-fledged participatory democracy.

Political scene

With the adoption of new electoral legislation which abolished the majority voting system, political parties became the main actors of the Ukrainian politics. The major issue, hence, is what these parties actually are and do they adequately represent the Ukrainian society’ complicated social, class and cultural make-up. Simple answer is – no, they certainly don’t. The party development certainly lags behind the society’s growing diversity and dynamics. The persistently low credibility of the Parliament, with 30% of the population declaring that they do not trust it, provides a numerical indicator of its incapacity to reflect the society’s demands. A sociological study found that the party programs in the wake of March 2006 Parliamentary elections had little or no overlap with the actual expectations of the electorate. [2]

Of the five parties that won seats in the recent Parliamentary elections three of them – the Party of Regions of Ukraine (PRU), the Socialist Party and the Communist Party – finally in July 2006 formed the so called anti-crisis coalition. For all the seeming ideological inappropriateness of this alliance of leftist and oligarchic forces the common denominator they share is the reference to what has remained of the Soviet identity mainly in Eastern and Southern regions as well as a cross-section of some other age and culture specific population, which explains such epiphenomenon in the coalition policies as clear pro-Russian tilt. In a time perspective, the distribution of votes across this group shows an interesting trend – a change of hearts in their combined ‘pro-Soviet’ target audience away from the left and towards a more nationalist interpretation of the common Soviet references, which mirrors a similar ideological trend in neighboring Russia.

The other two parties include ‘Our Ukraine’ – a block of liberal patriotically minded parties, the main political force that won in the Orange revolution of 2004; and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Block (BYT) – another partner-competitor in the Orange team. The competitive advantage of the latter is its appeal to broader cross-sections of society, a greater political flexibility, offset by an ideological uncertainty. Over a short period of time the block shifted from rather vaguely expressed populism to outdated solidarism and finally socialism (consider Yulia Tymoshenko’s most recent decision to seek membership in Socialist International), contrasting with the block’s material dependence on large business groups as its major resource base.

Despite their failure to pass the threshold at the March Parliamentary elections the ethnic nationalist parties such as Ukrainian People’s Party (an offshoot of Rukh), PORA/Reform and Order Party block have not disappeared from the political scene having retained a high level of presence in regions politics – particularly in Western and Central Ukraine. With these parties the local political spectrum looks significantly more pluralistic than the top political level.

In 2005, the Orange block had chances to mobilize an unprecedented popular support for a new national project, but failed to do so because of its incapacity to formulate such a project and to see beyond its immediate social base – groups and individuals representing and/or affiliated with a patriotic part of business elite. The two major Orange parties, Our Ukraine and BYT, initially had a seemingly correct distribution across the social strata – the former as a liberal project reflecting the interests of the business elite, the latter with the ‘people’. Eventually, both of them missed the golden middle – failing to find support of the most active and motivated part – the middle class. To be fair, the task was not as easy as it may sound now. To mobilize the middle class one had to see several steps beyond the current status. The Ukrainian middle class is not an accomplished social phenomenon, but rather a process, a class/group identity on making. But the two processes, the political and the social one, could have been mutually re-enforcing.

Ukraine approached the politically decisive March 2006 in protracted debate inside the team of the apparent winners. The defection of minor orange partner, the Socialists, overturned the shaky political balance and ended hopes for the Orange coalition. The ensuing political developments, although hardly yet final, inflicted much damage upon Ukraine’s international standing. Domestically, only too obvious became the enormous drawbacks of the new political system of the so called Presidential – Parliamentary democracy with a party-list based electoral system, which resulted from the EU-blessed pacted transition in November 2004.

A major issue remains the identification of the difference between PRU and the Orange parties, given the large overlap between then in both ideology and social base. From the perspective of perceived threats to democracy associated with the advent of PRU to power one point at least merits attention. The Conscious Choice 2006 project [3] analyzed key elements of political culture of the top 15 parties that ran for the March 2006 Parliamentary elections. Sharp differences were found with regard to openness and willingness to go for social dialogue, with BYT and Our Ukraine ranking 2nd and 3rd and PRU almost at the bottom of the 15-party list. There are other indications as well of decreased transparency of decision-making process of the PRU-led government as opposed to its predecessors.

The central theme of domestic politics is the competition for power between the Cabinet and the President’s office. While Yuschenko’s ‘Our Ukraine’ party has lost much of its power bases, the Presidential office, including also Security and Defense Council, is gaining more weight backed by the Industrial Union of Donbass. Although under the amended Constitution, security, defense and foreign policy fall within the competence of the President, the Cabinet is striving to effectively put them under its control as well. The Cabinet follows the same methods in respect to the local self-government, trying to impose financial control over executive committees of the local councils). The government is split over the foundations of the foreign policy, energy security and internal economically driven feuds.

However, the political scene of Ukraine should not be viewed as confined to the party politics alone. There are many new developments on the grass-root level, in the regions, at the level local self-government, and various forms of citizens’ self-organization, which are no less – or probably more -important for the nation’s future then the party politics on the top of political ladder. The change from the unprecedented high level of support of the Orange forces immediately after the Revolution to the vast withdrawal of this support carries a different meaning from the traditional Soviet or Russian distrust of politics (the notorious post-Soviet ‘gap’ between the government and the governed). It reflects a significantly higher level of demands made on politicians by society, and the perceived inadequacies of the current political class in addressing these demands open space for new political projects with a broader social base as well as the ones better adjusted to regional needs.

NATO debate

The issue of NATO accession in Ukraine emerged in the context of the so called multi-vector policy approach of the Kuchma government – reflecting mainly the need to offset Russia’s influence. In 2004, NATO issue assumed greater prominence in the oppositional electoral program, seen as both an efficient security arrangement and an instrument to upgrade the country’s global standing. On May 23, 2002 the National Security and Defense Council passed resolution on the accession to NATO, which on June 19, 2002 was signed into the Law ‘On the foundations of the national security of Ukraine’. According to the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Research, it was since that time when the official language changed from euphemistic ‘Euro-Atlantic integration’ to unambiguous ‘NATO accession’ [4]. And finally, in 2005 Ukraine entered the Intensified Dialogue with NATO. The Law is currently disputed in the Parliament by the PRU-led Coalition. The MAP that was expected soon to follow was put on hold by the prime-minister’s visit to Brussels in September 2006 on the pretext of low public support of the accession.

According to Kyiv-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Research, the most quoted source for public opinion polls on NATO, in 2002 31.4% of voters would support the accession, while 32% would be against 22.3 undecided[5] . Characteristically, the younger age showed significantly more support for the accession – 40.4% vs. 22.4% with almost the same portion of the undecided 19.8%.

On October 6, 2006, the figures showed a dramatic decline in public support of NATO accession 18.2 vs. 60.9. The figures were extensively publicized by the historic opponents of NATO and served as a convenient argument for the newly appointed prime-minister Yanukovych in his effort to condition Ukraine’s accession on public referendum while signing a deal with the President Yuschenko in August 2006 and later to back away from Ukraine’s commitment toward the adoption of Membership Action Plan. The validity of this argument was hard to dismiss as it left the Western politicians wondering what could have happened to a nation that demonstrated its strong commitment to democratic values just about two years ago, i.e. the values whose protection is the very raison d’etre of NATO. Moreover, the nation, whose majority voted for president explicitly calling for country’s accession, was at least by default suggesting that the majority of Ukrainians were pro NATO.

Yanykovych’s electoral campaign of 2004 was the first and so far the last electoral campaign in Ukraine that so heavily exploited the subject of NATO. It produced tons of flyers and posters portraying Yuschenko as an agent of the West [6]. The campaign ideology was not so much directed against NATO as it was built upon assumption that NATO is negative and Yuschenko’s association with it was used to undermine the latter’s positive image. Although this approach proved to be inefficient in 2004, having failed to undermine Yuschenko’s chances, it formed the basis for subsequent anti-NATO public propaganda campaign particularly with the deployment of Natalia Vitrenko’s group (Progressive Socialist Party) as a prop for PRU. The latter soon made the topic a key issue of her political campaigning up to the March 2006 Parliamentary elections and part of her group’s political brand. It soon became clear that anti-NATO campaigning represents a political commodity on its own right regardless of the elections. A hyper-visible anti-NATO issue group thus began to form – with Vitrenko and Russian nationalist organizations, communists, religious activists and a task-force of Russian politicians showing persistent interest in Ukraine [7]. The most recent actions of the issue group include Communist Party-led campaign ‘Crimea – anti-NATO stronghold’.

The backdrop of the ongoing war on terror and the perceived threats associated with Ukraine’s engagement in the Middle East are used as evidence for anti-NATO campaigning. But more important is the fact that, backed by the ongoing propaganda on the Russian TV, the issue group has succeeded to form a direct cognitive link between NATO and Russia, and to send a message that NATO means some serious problems with Russia. And last, but not least the public actions of the anti-NATO issue group and the ongoing hot party debate around the issue has formed strong negative connotation of domestic unrest. Bearing all this in mind it is clear that if asked about NATO accession [8] an average Ukrainian would be answering quite a different question(s) – about what the accession would imply to the political identity and the situation in the country. In other words, when asked about NATO – most people, probably, think wars, terror, Russia, the annoying Vitrenko and commies They were certainly not thinking of security guarantees against what happened to Georgia or another Tuzla (or Kerch strait) incident, the better military service and the membership in a real Western club, something that, according to the same polls, so many aspire to.

The problem is not so much the declined popularity of NATO – undermined by a synergy of efforts of anti-NATO issue group, Russian media etc. More worrying is the fact that even some liberal politicians, outside of the PRU-led parliamentary block, have found a convenient excuse in the newly produced sociology and embarked upon a campaign of promoting the idea of Ukraine’s neutrality. The main argument that this school of thought offers is the reference to Switzerland and four EU members. The argument, however disregards the fact that Ukraine is not Switzerland, and is located in a significantly different security environment, let alone the fact that other collective security arrangements – such as the EU’s emerging security and defence policies – have largely overwritten this neutrality status of European non-NATO members.

A political commentator of distinctly non-Orange background, Kost Bondarenko, has succinctly formulated the basic tenets of the neutrality doctrine [9]:

  • […] the foreign policy doctrine changes: the President abandons the previous Rybachuk’s conception – [of] immediate entry to Europe – and Tarasiuk’s one – [of] turning Ukraine into Georgia, and stakes on Chalyi – multi-vector policy, good-neighbor relations with the EU, Russia and NATO – without integration into supra-national projects, that harm the national sovereignty of Ukraine.

Although such program probably implies refraining from Russia-led integration schemes as much as Euro-Atlantic ones, it is clear that such autarchic stance would be too difficult to maintain and, if adopted, the policy will trigger a backslide into the grips of the more powerful neighbor affectively, running a risk of de-facto international isolation. The project’s philosophical underpinnings transpire in the other parts of K.Bondarenko’s five-point program. The energy issue is presented as the primary (implicitly the only real) problem of Ukraine’s national security [10], and a special line is dedicated to what the author sees as the adoption of the interests of Ukrainian-based transnational corporations as the guiding light to foreign policy formulation. Important though these things may be, this technocratic tilt means an incapacity to see the strategic issue, namely the plight of the nation’s integrity.

For all the prominence of the energy agenda, the East European security dilemma results not so much from energy disputes, but from the conflicting visions for the mode of political and social development of countries and the entire region. The energy issues essential and troublesome as they are, come lower in the taxonomic rank. For Ukraine more pressing are issues other than energy – how to hold the nation together and stimulate the social and political progress toward a full-fledged democracy, for which the key words are the rule of law, isonomy good governance (participatory democracy, local self-government, effective anti-corruption mechanisms, etc.). Solutions of the socially explosive issue of increasing energy tariffs lie in the field of tax and property reform, housing and land privatization, ending the de-facto policy of artificially limiting the wage growth – i.e. measures to ensure the steady and commeasurable growth of household incomes.

Moreover, modern Ukraine emerged as an independent state right at the moment when the bipolar world collapsed. Born into the complexity of post-modernity, would the nation be able to go full way back on the axis of time to recreate all stages that historic nation states went through? With world’s growing interdependency when the very notion of a nation state is being dramatically re-assessed and de-facto overwritten by more complex forms of political organization (EU for one), it seems that an isolationist project would a bit outdated [11].

Apart from other risks, this neutrality tilt bears another home policy risk – the only way for modern Ukraine to produce a new national project – capable to engage people living in regions where Ukrainian ethnic culture does not dominate – is by re-interpreting the Ukrainian ethnic nationalist ideology as a Ukrainian-European one. Through all the opinion polls, Europe appears as the only ideological common denominator across all regions [12]. Needless to say that without a clear EU perspective there is no way that such model would succeed. And that is something that only united Europe can help with but appears not to a have enough political will. The notorious social division of Ukraine that is widely discussed after the March 2006 Parliamentary elections – having most clearly transpired over the issue of NATO – reflects in fact not a case of Russian vs. Ukrainian ethnic nationalism but a nascent European identity vs. the Soviet one. Needless to say, that domestic peace in Ukraine is not about reconciling these two – as it hardly makes sense to reconcile concepts that belong to the past with the future. A democratic Europe-oriented project has the capacity to engage more followers while the Soviet identity oriented stance is not even a project. A similar situation exists elsewhere in the region and could be a clue to solving the region’s chronic ills – such as Transnistria: Moldovan identity is not attractive to Russian and Ukrainian speakers, while the new European sense of belonging is capable to overwrite the rift. Paradoxically, while the EU is struggling to construct a common European identity, it is already functioning outside of its borders.

A thorough analysis of the official texts of political programs performed on the eve of March 2006 Parliamentary elections in Ukraine [13] revealed that most parties hidden intent was not EU or NATO – but rather some kind of ‘third way’ development. The conclusion could be corroborated by impressions of some EU politicians working closely with Ukraine. A month before the elections the former EU Commissioner Sandra Kalniete ]said just as much: “The impression is that the majority of the elite would like to have Ukraine to themselves, as their own fiefdom, to do whatever they want” [14].

Another verbal tactic the proponents of Ukraine ‘own’ way are publicly campaigning for is to present the EU, US and NATO as disconnected items for Ukraine to pick and chose among [15]. The argument goes that we can drop out NATO, which is presented as the US sole project, heading toward EU which is presented as positive. The rhetoric clearly resonates with the opinion polls that show high popularity of the EU as opposed to NATO and the US – 48.8% vs. 31.9% in favor of accession [16].

Business and politics

In many ways, politics, business and justice have become a single marketplace in Ukraine. The nature of this market place suggests that not just market but black market type of relations served as model – as kind of parallel economic universe with loose and inherently opaque regulating principles and ever-present uncertainties, particularly dangerous for strangers. Political authority represents an economic value just as much as the presidency over a corporation or an enterprise would. The economic value of posts on the local council or a mayor’s office comes from the capacity to affect the distribution of the land resources. In a recent interview, Mykhailo Brodsky refers to an episode, when Tymoshenko calls up her faction leader in the Kyiv city hall asking him to facilitate the allotment of 11 hectares of forest land to judges of the Supreme Court [17]. The little episode provides best description of a basic scheme of how the networks involving political, judicial and business authorities operate. Of course, in another cultural context such operations would be interpreted as a corruption scheme, and indeed Brodsky objects to them. What makes this particular episode absolutely legal, despite the obvious actual loss incurred to the local budget, is the existence of a very Soviet-style law allowing the local councils to allot land free of charge to any Ukrainian citizens for housing purposes anywhere in Ukraine [18]. Needless to say, that those, who actually get the title are the most equal ones.

The logic of cross-sector networking – much as the black market ideology – is not a new one, and dates back to the shortages-ridden and privilege-driven planned economy. Hence, informal networks of people with similar social and corporate backgrounds continue to play a role of potent power mechanisms in politics and business. Much as elsewhere in post-socialist countries, the formation of Ukrainian large-scale businesses and the development of the state institutions went hand in hand, and was largely performed by the same set of individual actors/groups, and represent elements of almost the same process. With the logic inherent to the economic reform and large-scale privatization program, which rendered people controlling the distribution of vast public property assets both economically and politically potent, the process could hardly produce a different result. Westerns consultants and governments that acted as the designers and sponsors of privatizations bear as much responsibility for consequences, such as large scale corruption, as the local parties themselves. Much of the failures and inadequacies which provided a fertile ground for the growth of grey economy – such as improperly developed mechanisms of property disputes – could be also attributed to the legal, cultural and institutional heritage of the past that resisted quick decomposition. Consider the following statement on the Harriman Institute Project ‘Networks, Institutions, and Economic Transformation [19]:

Seventeen years have passed since the process of reform began. Yet, deal-making and ties between businesspeople and politicians still greatly affect the performance of markets; the consolidation of institutions; and the process of policy-making in both the economically well-performing post-socialist countries and those that have fared poorly.

Brodsky’s comments on the way party lists for Kyiv city council had been formed before the March 2006 elections, provide an insight into the way business and politics interact at the local government level [20]:

  • I demanded not to enlist the former members of the Kyiv Council, explaining to them: ‘Guys, you should not do it. These people already have their schemes, they are involved in [other people’s] schemes, they are not public figures anymore, and they will not protect the interests of Kyiv. […] God forbid they will all leave the faction, it will be a blow in the face of the party

Within the network, motivations may vary from economic to more political ones. But they are so interlaced that a pure political one would be rather an exclusion that only proves the rule. A characteristic phrase was once dropped by a local businessman cum politician in Lviv: ‘There are people, who with their businesses, just cannot afford being in opposition’. After the Orange revolution the phenomenon of so called ‘changed colors’ was widely discussed – referring mainly to people who supporter the blue-and-white PRU and then quickly changed into Orange – often outnumbering the genuine Orange ones in the local party and government lists. Such seeming change of hearts that became visible for the general public with the notable ideology rift highlighted by the revolution represents rather an established habit when changes on the top provoke clients at the lower taxonomy level to seek new patron up the hierarchy. Officials – act as resource managers – resources have both economic and political values – mutually convertible anyway – when one type of power is converted into another. Ukraine’s predicament – compared to neighboring countries like Poland – comes from the fact that in the latter the core structural, institutional and legal change was performed on the peak of movements still very popular in their nature and led by ideologically motivated and economically very modest politicians. The Orange revolution brought large numbers of new people into the local political process, many of whom although initially involved with new Orange parties, were subsequently sidelined in much the same way as described above. This glass can also be seen as half full – the revolution highlighted the willingness and the availability of local civic activists, and hence the potential of further civil society development. Apart from pure ideological, there is potential economic motivation for a change toward more participatory democracy and rule of law, which after all is the best-tested way to protect oneself from most unpleasant uncertainties, such as the ones related to the widespread raiding.

According of Olena Bondarenko of Ukrainska Pravda [21] during the last several months a new wave of raiders’ attacks (i.e. the illegal takeover of assets) has been mounting in Ukraine. It included a crane-building factory in Brovary, Kyiv region, steel-casting factory in Kremenchuk, an oil-extracting factory in Dnipropetrovsk and many others [22]. The author marks as a new development the fact that the focus of the attacks has shifted to enterprises of the medium size, while before large business groups were featured as parties to such property disputes [23].

Although the raider normally seeks a court ruling to obtain a legal title to the property, the real deal, according to the author occurs ‘behind the scene’ between more powerful actors, who back the disputing parties. This description highlights the importance of vertically integrated power networks based on client-patron principles. According to Ukrainska Pravda’s other source [24], the Cabinet has recently formed a special commission to curb the illegal takeover of assets. For all the importance and the scale of the phenomenon there is practically no mention of the commission’s existence let alone proceedings on the web.

The issues of raiding and ‘free’ land distribution highlight a serious legislative and policy gap, which constitutes a major domestic security threat – the inadequacy of the private and public property regulations. It resulted from an earlier ideological fence-sitting that created a major resource for grey economy and multiple opportunities for property manipulations.

Multiple other problems including the ones immediately affecting the household economy, such as the current housing utilities crisis, are connected to this issue. Weak household economy represents a major problem on its own right. The situation when any miniscule increase in food prices or housing utility tariffs makes the nation an easy prey of immense external pressures, heating up the domestic policy temperature is hardly normal. It should be viewed as a major security threat. Meanwhile, a series of Ukrainian governments have been artificially preventing the growth of wage and now the means to mitigate the current gas price burden are only discussed at the level of subsidy programs.

Ukraine’s economy shows little intensive development primarily because much of the effort of its business elite goes into the extensive dimension – protecting the already appropriated assets and acquiring new ones, investing in the creation of political strongholds in order to secure and improve the economic status quo. For many Ukrainian oligarchs development is tantamount to expansion.

Large foreign investments, for example in the banking and steel sectors as is now happening, certainly has a role to play in changing the paradigms for Ukrainian corporate governance in due course. But this will take time.

Regional challenges

One of the major challenges Ukraine faces today is the fact that there are still parts of the country that on all levels including notably the local bureaucracy, that theoretically have to be representative of the nation-state, but have not been fully culturally integrated into the new Ukraine. They remain in a political limbo – referring largely to and greatly influenced by modern Russia primarily as a substitute for the Soviet state. Through the electoral history of the past 15 years the political and cultural frontiers of the Ukrainian nation, as opposed to just those regions which are ethnically mainly Ukrainian, were gradually moving Eastwards having engulfed much of South and East, and certainly the Center [25], even in the context of March 2006 Parliamentary elections. The movement was somewhat interrupted by the advent to power of the Party of Regions, but there are no reason yet to say that it has been reversed. This pro-Ukraine movement had not resulted from a conscious government policy, but rather came about by default – through regions with large or dominant populations of ethnic Ukrainians (including the Russian-speaking patches). With the stumbling block now encountered, the Orange leaders still appeared to be incapable to realize that a systematic policy was needed to address the challenge. The issue was interpreted mainly as linguistic – Russian speakers as opposed to Ukrainian speakers – and the Orange team naively thought as it would be able to cope by occasionally talking Russian alongside the official Ukrainian on trips to Eastern regions and when asked questions in Russian during public sessions.
Lessons of the Orange revolution, demonstrating the potential of civic activism, have not remained an exclusive property of the civil society and were eagerly picked up by anti-democratic forces. Over the past couple of years the Western NIS states, with the exception of Belarus, witnessed an onslaught of a host of fake civic groups sponsored by political technologists mainly with roots in Russia. Most prominent names include Proryv (break-through) in Transnistria and subsequently Sevastopol, where it openly called for Crimea succession from Ukraine in January 2006. Proryv is also affiliated with the Che Guevara School of Political Leadership [26]. Branches of Russian or pan-Slavic extreme nationalist organizations – such as the Eurasian Youth Union have also sprouted out in Ukraine since late 2004 [27]. They acquired some media prominence and caused concern of Ukrainian authorities by organizing anti-NATO rallies under the banners of Russian nationalism in Crimea and campaigning against the official recognition of the Ukrainian Rebels Army (UPA) [28]. Together these groups activities contribute to creating and impression that the essence of modern Ukraine’s plight is a dispute over pro-Russian vs. pro-Western orientation, and not democracy vs. authoritarianism.

Combined efforts of these groups and local Russian nationalists in Crimea, who established a stronghold in the regional Parliament [29] are now working to undermine the inter-ethnic peace on the peninsula. On August 11, 2006, a Crimean MP and Russian Community activist Oleg Rodivilov orchestrated a violent assault on the peaceful Crimea Tatar rally in Bakhchisarai. Since mid-1990 paramilitary units under a common umbrella of Cossacks and Russian nationalist ideology were spawning in Crimea [30]. The total number of Cossack organizations is up to one hundred, registered on a district level and forming four regional associations. They most frequently appear as the other side of any conflict involving Crimea Tatars, are actively engaged in the religious symbols war – marking visible places with large stone crosses to much chagrin of local Muslim population. If ethnic tensions between the Muslim population and ethnic Russians continue to grow Cossacks have the capacity to provide an infrastructure for an armed phase of potential conflict.

Bakhchisarai events marked a milestone in growing inter-ethnic tension. They were followed by a series of fights between young Crimea Tatars and Russians in various localities and a graffiti campaign openly calling for war on Tatars in Simferopol and other localities in Crimea. Over the March 2006 elections, the national government has lost much of control over the regional authorities, as even the local supporters of PRU in the regional Parliament show little willingness to heed to the Cabinet on many issues, and notably in the Cabinet’s attempts to deal with the inter-ethnic tensions.

A new warning signal as to the security situation in Crimea is the recent declaration of President Putin made while answering a question on the situation in Crimea, that Russia is ready in case of Ukraine’s appeal to protect it from the interference from abroad into internal Ukrainian affairs [31]. The message only too obviously rings the bells with Hungary 1956 or Afghanistan 1979 and generated a heated discussion in Ukraine.

Security sector

The institutional culture and the underlying philosophy of the security service – largely remains Soviet-style and intellectually dependent on modern Russian sources. The system is not capable to assimilate the modern Western security thinking as much for the reason of suspicion as for the lack of the appropriate background knowledge in social sciences and humanities, still largely unpopular and underdeveloped areas in the local security training. The security sector continue to cooperate uncritically with neighboring authoritarian regimes, moreover, there always remains a risk of re-enforcing and adopting unlawful practices through such cooperation. In February 2006, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) attracted much criticism on the part of civic groups when it detained 11 asylum seekers in Crimea based on Uzbek extradition warrants, and forcibly returned 10 of them to Uzbekistan on the night of 14-15 February. As the most recent example of a negative influence upon the law-enforcement practices, our sources in Crimea reported on a visit to the local interior department in October by a group of police from Krasnodar, a region of Russia that gained notoriety for local government sponsored persecutions on ethnic grounds, ostensibly to share experience in dealing with migrants, which received much praise on the part of Crimean colleagues. The law-enforcement agencies seems to have no policy as to how far cooperation with regional neighbors should go. On the other hand, Crimea Tatars often complain that the local police and security departments have ethnic bias against them.

Ambitious security sector reform based on a Western-inspired model, developed by Security and Defense Council in 2005, have so far only produced a numerical reduction (SBU) and one major structural change – the Governmental Communication Service has been singled out and became an agency on its own right directly subordinated to the Cabinet. Now, in the context of new budget for 2007, the struggle for financial control over SBU is going on, the Cabinet-proposed scheme of funding provides for the Cabinet-controlled Treasury to underwrite the SBU bills, as opposed to the National Bank as it has been the case. The logic of seeing government agencies as political assets hinders proper institutional development. In as much as the security sector agencies are seen as assets of one political-economic group as opposed to the other – a serious structural reform could hardly be expected despite ongoing sporadic attempts to push forward the reform at the level of the Security and Defense Council. It seems that only major security crises, such as the recent one in Crimea, which highlighted the security services low regional capacity, could stimulate significant changes in human resource strategies and organizational arrangements.


On a crossroad that we are now, when choosing where to go, it would be hardly wise to go back.

The partial solutions such as neutrality doctrine that claims that it would protect “the national sovereignty of Ukraine” from integration into supra-national projects stand only to reduce the country to sub-national status, immerse it an isolation and fall short of mending its internal social divides. Such doctrine just as much as integration with authoritarian neighbors would obviously put at peril the level of democracy that the nation has already achieved. The outcome may be detrimental both to Ukraine’s national security and the European security system. Instead of contributing to the regional stability, a neutral or otherwise non-European, non-democratic, Ukraine runs a risk of becoming a source of instability itself and a connecting link to other conflict areas beyond its boarders. Eventually, the major internal and external threats that the nation is faced with now include:

1. Backsliding into an authoritarian mode – i.e. adopting a model that take inspiration in Putin’s Russia or, much worse becoming its satellite. Formation of a PRU-led oligarchic monopoly could be entry to this mode. So far PRU shows many sings of heading there. To avoid that, Ukraine needs to preserve at least the current level or political and economic competition.

2. Political isolation and hence arrested democratic development. If the country continues to follow ambiguous and indecisive political course toward two major actors – Russia and the West, sugar-coating it with outdated political concepts such as neutrality or multi-vector policies, or openly join any of the Russia-led integrationist initiatives such as the Unified Economic Space, Ukraine risks a de-facto international isolation. Meanwhile, democracy, open society can only live in an open world. It seems that to ensure a stable solution to this problem, Ukraine need to put the final dots on its energy dilemma, or strive as hard a possible to divide these two issues, which will be impossible without European partnership.

3. Social division, regional instability, separatism and loss of sovereignty over parts of the territory. This challenge most seriously concerns Crimea. In calls for upgrading the institutional capacity of the security sector, but even more for a serious open public discussion and a new inclusive national project, able to overcome the constraints of ethnic nationalism. Without a new Ukrainian-European national project Ukraine will hardly be capable to address neither of these two aspects.

4. Becoming part of a larger instable region, which might include the continuously destabilized Northern Caucasus, Southern Osetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria. This sad perspective seems possible and presents a security concern for both Ukraine and the EU in medium to longer term perspective. The processes in the neighboring Russian Federation likely to contribute to it include: the ongoing civil war in Chechnya and militant re-islamization of the Northern Caucasus, the growing xenophobia, state-sponsored persecution on ethnic and religious grounds, proliferation of radical Russian nationalism. All this comes against the backdrop of policies effectively reducing the nation’s immunity to these negative processes – such as restrictions of democratic freedoms, police harassments, censorship of media and persecutions of free journalists, restrictions on civil society organizations.


[1] This paper was originally prepared for the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), for presentation at a CEPS-IISS-DCAF seminar on “Quid Ukraine’s Strategic Security?”, held on 6 November 2006 at CEPS in Brussels.

[2] Usvidomlenn’a vyboru 2006: Interaktyvne spivsatvlenn’a interesiv vybortsiv ta obits’anok politychnykh syl. Alyans Maidan. Halyts’ka Vydavnycha Spilka – 2006. (UV – 2006) (Conscious Choice 2006: an interactive comparative study of the voters’ interests and promises of the political forces – in Ukrainian)

[3] Usvidomlenn’a vyboru 2006… p. 9.


[5] See

[6] At the storage facilities of Kyiv National Exhibition Center alone in October, 2004, opposition uncovered a stock of 100 tones of posters and other propaganda materials of this kind. With this stock excluded from circulation the anti-Western propaganda campaign associated with PRU still remained extremely visible throughout Ukraine.

[7] The most outstanding case in point is the Russian MP Konstantine Zatulin, declared non-grata by Ukrainian Security Service for organizing the June, 2006 anti-NATO rallies in Feodosia, Crimea.

[8] The usual question in the opinion polls is ‘if the referendum on NATO accession were tomorrow, how would you vote: for the accession to NATO, against the accession to NATO, difficult to answer, would not vote’.

[9] Kost’ Bondarenko. Mysterious Hayduk. Final part. Ukrainska Pravda 16.10.2006: The whole lengthy article is dedicated to interpreting (or promoting) the appointments in the Presidential Administration – the ISD people – Hayduk, Chalyi, Yatseniuk (the latter one publicly denied the link). Of the threesome the 2nd one, former deputy minister of foreign affairs has become a symbol of neutrality doctrine. Although the author’s view is not necessarily representative of the Presidential Secretariat position, the foreign policy ideas outlined in the article ring bells with a cross-section of corporate politicians both inside and outside the Parliament.

[10] It is interesting to note that the adepts of this school richly utilize the old Soviet ideological cliches – such as the base/superstructure model – drawing on the assumption that once economic needs are satisfied, all the other problems will be sorted out automatically.

[11] Cp. Galina Yavorska. Constructing European identity in Ukraine. Colloque international et pluridisciplinaire “Pour une Maison de l’Europe contemporaine” « L’Europe : utopie ou levier du changement » 16 – 17 juin 2006. The author maintains that if Ukraine would not develop into a post-modern European nation it is risks becoming a pre-modern one, eventually, a failed state.

[12] Consider the following figures in favor Ukraine’s accession to the EU by regions: Western – 67.4%, Central 57.1%, Southern – 28.8%, and Eastern – 39.1%.

[13] Serhiy Mykhailiv. Unexpected soul-mates: European values in the mirror of elections: While most Ukrainian commentators dismissed the programs as irrelevant to understanding the ‘real’ intents of politicians, the author (using discourse analysis techniques) found a number of characteristic omissions in the texts of programs – of key concepts associated with European integration, across entire ideological spectrum – from Orange parties (except Our Ukraine) to ethnic nationalist, centrists, leftists and liberals.

[14] Sandra Kalniete interview for Spiegel Online February 21, 2006 –

[15] It’s interesting to compare this line of argumentation with slogans used as part of the above-cited CP-led anti-NATO campaign in Crimea – ‘Yuschenko, enough to dance to US tunes!”, “This is our land, and not of the Americans!”, “Ukraine – neutral (vneblokovaya)” The presupposition US ~ NATO ~ aggression is just as clear here as it is in the programs hosted by Igor Slisarenko, Channel 5, and overlaps with the proponents of neutrality.

[16] Even in Western Ukraine, where voting for EU is 67.4% vs. 11.7%, the NATO polls still is not as clear-cut – 39% vs. 24.6% —

[17] Mykhailo Brodsky’s interview for 19 October 2006 – The fact that material related to Yulia Tymoshenko’s block has been selected as an illustration here is of course purely accidental, conclusions drawn on its base hold true just as well for all other political actors.

[18] Law ‘On the local self governance’ of 21.05.1997

[19] See – in Postsocialism’

[20] /// Glavred etc. ////

[21] Olena Bondarenko. Kirovohrad trial. Ukrainska Pravda, 18.10.2006 ; other media including the TV are widely discussing the subject.

[22] There are numerous other cases in the media – see the Daily ‘Delo’ of 16 October 2006 on shopping mall “Detsky Myr” in Kirovohrad, bread-baking plants in Zhytomyr.

[23] The author quotes experts, who believe these enterprises have attracted raider for two reasons – the lower cost of raiding operations as such and the comparatively higher profitability potential in view of the fact that such enterprises still remain underpriced on the market.

[24] Kostiantyn Matvienko. Society does not need such state. Ukrainska Pravda. 19.10.2006

[25] By movement I refer to the change in geographical distribution of voters preferences shifting from political projects build on elements of Soviet identity – such as communists – to more Ukraine-oriented projects.

[26] International Youth Corporation ‘Proryv’ and High School of Political Leadership named after Ernesto Che Guevara – respectively – some Ukrainian organizations – such as Dmitro Korchynsky’s rent-a-crowd Bratstvo – are also involved in this Tiraspol-based project.

[27] The list of Russian (affialiated or even RF-based) organizations in Crimea is growing. Recently, the Kremlin sponsored ‘Nashi’ appeared in Simferopol distributing anti-American flyers, consider some characteristic slogans:, “Don’t buy dollars! Rouble is our currency”; “Stop investing money in American economy, a time will come when its might will trun against you” – see maidan_krym

[28] Ukrainian Rebels Army fought for Ukraine’s independence against both Nazis and Soviets in the period from the 2nd World Was through 1953.

[29] Alliance with the Party of Regions helped the nationalist Russian Block (Russkaya Obschyna) win 7 seats in Crimean Parliament within the largest 43-people strong faction ‘For Yanukovych’, including the influential post of the 1st Deputy Chairman of the Parliament (Sergei Tsekov).

[30] The units have a military kind of hierarchy, ranks, uniform, in clashes they use whips but were not noted for possessing shooting arms. Cossacks were instituted by a Decree of Crimean President Meshkov of 16 May, 1994. Meshkov expelled, the institute of Crimean presidency abolished, but the Cossacks continue to develop until now. They not only busy themselves with bothering the local Tatar population, but are involved in businesses particularly corporate security and offer their members other advantages of informal network connecting to people of authority across various sectors. These modern militants have of course nothing much to do, except for perhaps esthetic inspiration, with the historic Cossacks, who were severely persecuted by the Bolsheviks in 1920-30s.

[31] See —

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One Comment to “Ukraine’S Strategic Security – On A Crossroad Between Democracy And Neutrality”

  1. terry says:

    Superb analysis. I would add only two notes of caution:

    1 -- Paralysis by analysis
    2 -- Zeno’s dichotomy paradox

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