From TPM Reader NV
I have to take issue with TPM reader OA's statement that "[c]onceding Ukraine to Russia's sphere of interest would be a disaster for Ukraine--it would surely lead to civil war and would destabilize all of Eastern Europe (the Poles and the Balts aren't going to sit idly by)...." I think this overstates things quite a bit. I don't know what OA is suggesting the Poles and the "Balts" (who are they?) are going to do, if not sit idly by.
I was born in eastern Ukraine and moved to the U.S. when I was 11 years old. I still have family in Ukraine and I visit them every year or two.
I think reader OA overstates whatever animosity may exist between people residing in western and eastern Ukraine. What can be considered the core of eastern Ukraine contains 30% of the country's population, and as the polls you cite suggest, opposition to NATO membership extends far beyond that core population. And I think dismissing that opposition as one based on semantics (i.e, if only they changed the name of NATO) is too simplistic and actually borders on the ridiculous. If "every Soviet citizen was told NATO was the enemy," as OA would have it, perhaps the U.S. and various European countries should have changed their names too. Or was this indoctrination limited to the word NATO and excluded all references to America, capitalism, etc.? There is a lot more going on here than the purported continued inability of Ukrainians to overcome Soviet indoctrination, to which, incidentally, people ceased being exposed to since at least Glasnost in the late 1980s.
As for the assertion that conceding Ukraine to Russia (as if the only option for Ukraine is falling totally within Russia's influence or joining NATO) will be disastrous and "surely lead to civil war," that seems extremely remote to me. Recent civil wars in Eastern Europe, as most civil wars, have pitted various ethnic and religious groups against each other. Ukraine is quite monolithic in both its religious and ethnic composition. The talk of two Ukraines is quite overblown and is very much a simplification, as anyone living in Ukraine will tell you. These are not distinct cultures in the same way as Albanians and Serbs are, for instance. There are differences, to be sure. For example, the East is industrialized, more developed, and relatively more prosperous. It accounts for a huge proportion of Ukraine's GDP. The West, on the whole, is rural, less developed, and more poor.
Further, I don't think that the defeat of Ukraine's prime minister in his 2004 presidential race can be attributed to the failure of "multi-vector" foreign policy. It's not clear that this was a policy failure in the first place, and it has worked out quite well for other former republics that have much less in common with Russia, both historically and culturally, such as Kazakhstan.
One must also understand that the relationship between Ukraine and Russia cannot at all be analogized to the relationship between Georgia and Russia. They are unique. The historic and cultural ties between Russia and Ukraine are extensive. Kiev, after all, was the cradle of Slavic civilization.
Finally, OA gets a fact wrong (not dispositive of his argument, but still an important point). The previous Ukrainian president was not "dumped" during the Orange Revolution. He did not run for reelection. To the extent anyone was dumped, it was the sitting prime minister who was the candidate for president supported by many in the east and ostensibly by Russia.
Having said all this, I agree with OA's conclusions. He's right in saying that "the only hope (for all) in the long run is to repair U.S.-Russian relations." And he's also right when he says that "the problem for Ukraine and Ukrainians is how to prevent the interference of the West AND the Russians in domestic politics."