Ukraine Follows the ‘Turkey Model’

There's an inherent risk involved in taking at face value the policy declarations of a country's leader. My general rule of thumb is to do so when the declaration in question supports an argument I'm trying to defend. And that's certainly the case when it comes to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's description of Ukraine's approach to its foreign policy posture:

After his first meeting with the European Union, Mr. Yanukovich contrasted past disputes with Russia with the way in which he said Ukraine is now working — "in the spirit of partnership in the triangle of Russia-Europe-Ukraine."

But it's worth noting that despite fears that Yanukovych would return Ukraine to the Russian sphere of influence, he's been pretty consistent about his desire to avoid improving relations with Moscow at the cost of Ukraine's relations with the EU. That mirrors what I observed in the aftermath of his election, namely that Yanukovych isn't so much realigning Ukraine with Russia, as he is rebalancing Ukraine between Moscow and Brussels, after the period of tilt toward the West under his predecessor. It's also worth noting that, if ties with the EU have indeed suffered, it has to do in part with the fact that Brussels hasn't exactly shown enthusiasm in delivering on either its maximal offers from five years ago (full membership), or the more-modest wish list that Yanukovych has since formulated (economic partnership and energy cooperation).

Yanukovych is also correct in observing that improved Ukraine-Russia relations have been a net gain for Europe and the West. But more importantly for Yanyukovich, who is after all elected by Ukrainians, the overall rebalancing act has been a net gain for Ukraine. Now, part of that has to do with the policy shift taking place in the context of a broader thaw in Russia-EU and Russia-U.S. relations. And that is a reflection of both smart diplomacy by the Obama administration, but also structural incentives that now make it in Russia's interest to pursue better relations.

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