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article imageOp-Ed: Ukraine in NATO? Poroshenko says Nyet

By Rob Edens     May 19, 2014 in Politics
Kiev - For all intents and purposes, Ukraine already has a President-in-waiting even if the elections, slated for May 25th, have yet to take place.
Such is the enthusiasm of the West at the prospect of Petro Poroshenko, that both media and political leaders have embraced the chocolate magnate. Yulia Tymoshenko, the iron lady of Ukrainian politics of the late 2000s, is being awarded far less attention in the diplomatic pageant that has accompanied the Crimean crisis and its protracted aftermath. Why is the West so enthralled by Poroshenko? Possibly because he seems as the safest choice for Kyiv’s new leadership.
In recent days, the primary point of contention between the two main candidates has been their stance over NATO accession. While both agree that Ukraine’s destiny lies with Europe and its 500-million strong common market, they do not see eye to eye over joining the West’s main military alliance. Tymoshenko has repeatedly stressed that Ukraine ‘must be a part of NATO’ and said that she will hold a referendum for the people to decide. Poroshenko, on the other hand, refuses to take into account the possibility of Ukraine’s membership in the Western-backed military alliance. "Such a referendum at this stage will not provide unity, and that means it’s impractical to carry it out," Poroshenko said.
What significance does this all have? Essentially, Poroshenko has taken a cautious approach in engaging with Russia, not wanting to upset a Kremlin that has repeatedly stated its willingness to ‘do business with’, with the chocolate magnate if he were to win the top job. Moreover, Poroshenko has extended an olive branch to Moscow, by suggesting conducting bilateral talks outside the already existing format with the European Union and the United States.
Poroshenko’s stance signals his willingness to compromise by not further angering the Russians or by setting in stone any campaign promises. In a nutshell, the message is that everything can be negotiated or modified in order to reach an agreement, certainly a wishy-washy approach in a country that requires concrete actions and solutions. Rejecting NATO membership outright, like Poroshenko has done, without giving the Ukrainian people the chance to have their say is only one way to go about the situation.
Cold facts do not lie
Unsurprisingly, the latest Razumkov poll suggests that the number of Ukrainians in favor of joining NATO has considerably increased since Russia’s assertive actions in Crimea, with 36% saying they aspire to membership and 41.6% being against the military bloc. It is reasonable to assume that the anti-Russian sentiment will continue for the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, a related study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 70% of people living in eastern Ukraine want the country to remain united and keep its current borders. So much for the narrative that there is a great majority of Ukrainians fighting to join Russia or completely break away from Kiev. These figures give new creed to the idea that Ukraine sees itself in European colors and has no intention of looking to Russia anymore.
It seems that all the elements are there to send out a strong signal to Russia, underlining that its actions have done more harm than good, by strengthening Ukraine’s desires to break free from Moscow’s influence. A strong leader, supported by the West, would give the necessary impetus to defeat any Russian claims over Ukraine.
Unfortunately, that leader is not Poroshenko. And perhaps that is precisely the reason why the West is supporting him. France’s unwillingness to cancel the sale of two, very powerful military frigates to Russia or Germany’s complicated economic relationship with the Kremlin, show the extent to which the Old Continent is divided over standing up for the values it professes, such as democracy and rule of law, and safeguarding its realpolitik economic interests. Poroshenko, with his extensive business interests in Russia is on the same page as many European leaders, choosing to tread lightly around Putin and avoid any confrontational tactics that would show his boldness and might in standing up for Ukraine.
Tymoshenko on the other hand has experience in dealing with Putin and knows how he is likely to act. It is not by happenstance that the Russian leader once referred to her as ‘the only man in Ukrainian politics’. Through her pledges to fight against Russian encroachment, Tymoshenko shows great will to give the people of Ukraine what they need: a strengthened sense of security.
Poroshenko bridges the gap between Europe and Russia, but he does so by playing Western fears over a more active involvement in Ukraine. Like the U.S., the EU is increasingly reluctant to punch its weight in global affairs, settling instead for a laissez-faire attitude. Supporting Poroshenko over the firebrand Tymoshenko is proof of this inexplicable fear to face Russia. In the end, despite its militaristic rallying calls, Putin would not have gone to war over Ukraine. He just wanted to see the European Union blink first. He was right.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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