Russia Withholds Ambassador to Ukraine

Earlier this week, Russian President Dmetri Medvedev criticized Ukraine’s political leadership and announced that Russia would not send an ambassador to Ukraine until circumstances have changed.  Medvedev accused Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, of being “anti-Russian” and said that relations between their two countries had fallen to “unprecedented lows.”

Since his accession to office in 2005 after a peaceful revolution involving the fall of a Moscow-backed regime, Yushchenko, who believes Russian agents once tried to assassinate him with poison, has adopted policies that could easily be considered pro-Western and anti-Russian.  He suggested that Russia’s navy would be evicted from its port in Sevastopol in 2017 when its current lease expires.  He has overseen arms sales to Georgia and been a vocal supporter of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose country was invaded by Russian troops last year.  He also accused Russia of committing genocide against the Ukrainian people during Soviet times.  But most importantly, his country has recently applied for NATO membership , a move which Russia vehemently opposes because it views Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence.

Last month, Vice President Joe Biden said the US would support Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.  But allowing Ukraine to join the alliance would be a policy error.  It is unlikely that Russia would allow a country that has historically been a Russian satellite state to permanently ally itself with a political-military coalition that many Russian officials consider hostile.  Russia would likely use military and economic coersion against Ukraine and possibly the West as well.  As a result, diplomatic ties with the West would be severly strained at a time when cooperation is needed on a number of important issues, including nuclear proliferation.  Moreover, NATO forces probably could not defend Ukraine against a Russian attack without igniting a major war.   The US and its allies should not risk a disatrous conflict with a strategically important country like Russia for ideological reasons.

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