Nearly 18 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing restoration of Ukraine’s independence, the country has yet to make a clear, committed choice about its geopolitical future. Having established itself as a sovereign state in the 1990s, Ukraine’s foreign policy sought to balance its drive to build links to Europe and the United States with its need to maintain stable relations with Russia.
Many believed the 2004 Orange Revolution and Viktor Yushchenko’s subsequent election as president would lead to a concerted Ukrainian push to integrate fully into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community. But political infighting within Kyiv and other problems have stymied the country’s efforts to take advantage of its new opportunities. The upcoming presidential election hopefully will result in an executive branch that can execute more coherent policies than has been the case in the past four years.
The United States and European countries that would like to see Ukraine more closely linked to the West will have to decide the best way to pursue engagement with Ukraine after Ukrainians choose their next president. It is possible, for example, that the new president will adopt a more modest pace to efforts to integrate into institutions such as NATO, while showing greater sensitivity to Russian concerns. In such a case, the United States and Ukraine’s supporters in Europe should maintain robust relations with Kyiv and press the country’s government to implement needed constitutional and economic reforms, while keeping doors open and working with Ukraine to integrate it into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community at a pace that Kyiv will choose.