"Poly-vector" foreign policy redefines priorities
Last week, a new minister of foreign affairs took office in Ukraine. Actually, Anatoly Zlenko is not new to the stage of foreign politics. Many people still associate his name with the remarkable events of the early 1990s, when the country gained its independence and the intelligent and handsome Zlenko became Minister of Foreign Affairs. He left the office a few months before Leonid Kuchma was elected to the presidential post in 1994. During the past several years, Zlenko has worked as Ukraine's ambassador to France.
The appointment of the experienced, calm and knowledgeable diplomat as minister of the national foreign office cannot provoke negative reactions from any side of the political spectrum. Zlenko has already shown himself to be a serious and balanced supervisor of the country's international relations.
Why has this event then become such a major topic of political discussion during the past week? Undoubtedly, if somebody gets a new job it often means that somebody else loses his or hers. In this case, Borys Tarasyuk, the former minister, is the loser, and that has consequentially provoked a wide range of comments in national political circles. Generally speaking, there is no disagreement about the reason for Tarasyuk's dismissal. However, the reason itself has different explanations and may produce different consequences for Ukraine's future foreign policy endeavors.
Tarasyuk was widely known in Ukraine and internationally as a deeply pro-Western politician. Precisely, not only a Western oriented diplomat, but also a politician, since he always made his personal position on different issues known. Such independence of the foreign minister sometimes had negative ramifications for the general priorities of the country.
The most well known disagreement of his time in office concerned relations with Russia. Politicians in Russia were dissatisfied with the Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs since his appointment to the office. Moreover, last month one of the leading Russian newspapers, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, correctly predicted Tarasyuk's pending dismissal ahead of any comments from the Ukrainian side. Tarasyuk's last trip to Moscow only confirmed the likelihood of the forecasts—even with the Ukrainian foreign minister doing his best, he could not obtain any sort of mutual understanding, let alone real cooperation with his Russian colleagues.
Russian dissatisfaction, however, is not viewed by everyone as the major reason for the ousting of the foreign minister. Some believe that the "hand of Moscow" was not the decisive factor in this circumstance—the problem lies deeper, somewhere in the crossroads of Tarasyuk's personal preferences in foreign politics (Western politics and NATO), the deterioration of the international image of Ukraine and the inability of the country to follow and quickly implement Western recommendations regarding development. The former minister certainly played a role in all the processes mentioned above, and his dismissal became a logical outcome of a general inability to introduce valuable positive changes.
Ukrainian political scientist Mykhaylo Pogrebynsky, commenting on the dismissal to the electronic newspaper Ukrainiska Pravda, said that "the degree of the disappointment and even somehow bitterness towards Ukraine that we observe nowadays has subjective reasons as well. The major reason, to me, is the mistaken expectation of the West about the possibiliteies for our country, its society and elite, to make a leap into a 'bright, democratic tomorrow.' The whole range of the new Ukrainian politicians has contributed to the formation of this mistaken expectation. Tarasyuk is undoubtedly one of them."
Now, when the country has failed to introduce the prescribed reforms, "the West does not even try to examine and understand ongoing processes in Ukraine. Instead, Western politicians, political scientists, diplomats and media have started to seek (and they have found!) simple explanatory models of these processes in the form of a 'fair reformators against corrupt anti-reformators' dichotomy ," concludes Pogrebynsky.
Socialist leader Olexandr Moroz said that he sees the major reason for the change in the foreign minister's office in the independent position of Tarasyuk and authority and respect he has within Ukrainian society.
National vs personal priorities
However, the majority of national politicians and experts agree that the contradiction between national foreign policy interests and Tarasyuk's personal foreign priorities was a crucial factor in Zlenko's appointment. To a certain degree, President Kuchma confirmed this idea in his interview with the German newspaper, Frankfurter Rundschau. Kuchma explained his decision and choice of the new foreign minister in terms of the strategic necessity of Russia's status as Ukraine's main trading partner and the realization that the relationship cannot have "second-class" importance.
Kuchma also linked national foreign priorities to the problem of Western help and assistance in the democratic changes in the country. According to Kuchma, Western countries more readily give recommendations than material help. And since they do not offer a willingness to share in the responsibility for the transition processes in Ukraine, the country puts a great meaning in its cooperation with its Northern neighbour, according to the Russian's Inopress.
Will we really see rapid and serious changes in the country's foreign policy with the change of the minister? It seems unlikely. Ukraine has three major strategic partners—Russia, the EU and the US. The priorities will remain the same with Zlenko as the new foreign minister. The difference can be expected in the range of these priorities and in better cooperation between the presidential and foreign offices of the country.
Confirmation that strategic international priorities of the country will not be changed with the appointment of a new foreign minister already came in the first week of Zlenko's term.
US naval visit—Russian distrust
For several days during the end of September and beginning of October, two US naval ships visited the Sevastopol headquarters of the national navy. As Ukrainian military officials reported, American ships spent several days in Crimea carrying out cooperation plans between the military offices of the two countries. Ships were anchored in the trade port of Sevastopol. This event would never get serious attention if not for the Russian navy. According to information given by Radio Free Europe, an unidentified Russian admiral told the Interfax news agency that Kyiv had not informed Moscow of the visit ahead of time, thus violating agreements on relations between the Russian and Ukrainian navies in Sevastopol.
Moreover, Russians maintained that two high-speed American ships without identified numbers, but equipped with the best and newest electronics and weapons, had come to Sevastopol to perform intelligence exercises against the Russian Navy.
Ukrainian officers were surprised by the reaction of their Russian colleagues, and declared that the head of Russian Navy in Crimea was informed about the visit a day before. Although an agreement about shared use of the Sevastopol port exists, there is no official document regulating the order of visits to Ukrainian and Russian ships by the ships of other countries. Taking this into account, Ukrainian officers consider the Russian reaction as "open military-political pressure" on Ukraine and an attempt to curtail Ukraine's sovereignty," Radio Free Europe reports.
Natalya Krasnoboka, 6 October 2000
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Den', daily national newspaper
Inopress Ru, on-line source of foreign publications on Russia and Eastern Europe
Kyiv Post, weekly national newspaper
Korrespondent, on-line weekly
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
UA Today, on-line information agency
Ukrainska Pravda, on-line independent