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Yanukovych – Ukraine’s Nixon?

22 March 2010

10:47 AM

22 March 2010

10:47 AM

It is easy to paint Ukraine’s new leader, Viktor Yanukovych, as a pantomime monster, Russian stooge and businessman’s puppet. Last month I suggested his electoral victory over namesake Victor Yushchenko may not be as bad as people think. Now Andrew Wilson, Britain’s foremost Ukraine expert, argues the same. In a briefing paper, he notes that elections in Ukraine open up new opportunities for the EU:

‘Paradoxically, Yanukovych’s quest for good relations with Russia could also make it easier for EU member states to reach a consensus about how to deal with Ukraine. Too often in the past, the EU has been unable to develop a coherent policy on Ukraine because some member states fear offending Russia. Meanwhile, other member states have appeared to try to force Ukraine to choose between Russia and the West, for example over NATO membership. The EU now has an opportunity to develop a new approach to Ukraine that explicitly factors Russia into the equation. And if the EU supports Ukraine as it reaches out to Russia in some areas, the EU could help Ukraine push back in others.’

Wilson, who has been visiting Ukraine regularly for the last twenty years and has written the definitive book about the Orange Revolution, argues the West needs “a new twin-track approach of encouraging Kiev to engage with it and with Russia in trilateral formats in areas where the EU and Russia have common interests, while using the good will this generates to push Kiev more strongly in areas where interests diverge.” He suggests that the West “explore a trilateral format on gas” and to talk about a new European security order that includes Russia and NATO. Doing so, Wilson argues, will make it easier for the West to make progress on the bilateral track – for example, by getting Ukraine to sign a Deep Free Trade deal with the EU rather than joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.


When Richard Nixon visited China in February 1972, the world was agog. His reputation as an anti-communist and cold war hawk was well established, so he could make the leap. It is hard to see in the ex-Communist apparatchik Yanukovych resembling the American anti-Communist crusader, but it is not difficult to imagine a “Nixon-goes-to-China” moment.

However, as Margaret Macmillan’s Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World shows, the critical reason for the success of Nixon’s policy is the fact that he was pushing against an open door. China was concerned about the Russians too, but the chaos of the ongoing Cultural Revolution had left Beijing  isolated in world politics. They needed an opening – and Nixon gave it to them. Here the Yanukovych-as-Nixon analogy begins to falter. There is no revolution in Europe, though plenty of concern about Russia. Hopefully that may be enough for Europe to keep the door ajar for a new policy.


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