The European Union has issued an official statement, and in it they have declared that they recognize Ukraine as “a European country”. While this comes as hardly a surprise to anyone with access to a globe, the relevant message of this statement was clear: that Ukraine might at some point be offered membership in the European Union. And while French President Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear that more needed to be done before membership was offered, this was just the latest sign that Ukraine is emerging as a geopolitical battleground between a resurgent Russia and the worried west.
But Ukraine’s problems go deeper than just what is happening outside their borders. President Viktor Yushchenko’s party has abandoned the coalition government, a move which is likely to lead to snap elections being announced early next week. President Yushchenko has a long-standing rivalry with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whom he accused earlier in the week of treason for refusing to voice her opposition to Russia’s naval presence as loudly as he has.
The Russian leased naval base in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, the main base of operations for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet for centuries, is a contentious issue between Russia and Ukraine and a potential flashpoint between Russia and NATO. Russia’s lease on the base expires in 2017 and Ukraine has said it does not anticipate renewing it beyond that point. Rather, Ukraine aspires to NATO membership, and the port would be strategically valuable for NATO. Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated last week that the United States supports Ukraine’s NATO membership bid.
But many in Russia have contested the legality of Ukraine’s ownership of the Crimean Peninsula, and Russian Ambassador Yuri Fedotov has warned that the nation would consider the expansion of NATO into the Ukraine a “hostile act”. Ukraine and Russia share a long and virtually open border, and the presence of the nation in NATO would, according to the ambassador, lead to his nation reexamining its close economic ties. Its a move Ukraine’s government seems to want to make, but with Russia by far their most important trading partner, can they afford to?