Image via Wikipedia
You can stick a fork in Ukraine's bid to join the world's most powerful military pact, NATO, dashing Washington's dream, at least for now, of transforming the Black Sea into one big American lake. Viktor Yanukovich, the newly elected president, who has stated clearly he will steer a more easterly course than his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovich,abolished a few committee's working toward NATO membership. Although these groups were insignificant, the symbolism of shutting them down is powerful: Moscow can breathe a bit easier, NATO will not deploy in this country of 46 million any time soon. Yanukovich speaks of Ukraine being a 'bridge' between Europe and Russia, and NATO is not a building block in pursuit of that goal.
On April 6, Yanukovich signed two decrees, one abolishing a presidential commission to prepare Ukraine for membership of NATO -- a body birthed by Yushchenko.
Another decree closed down an allied body overseeing Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration.
"The dialogue with Russia has become a more comfortable one," analyst Mikhailo Pashkov of the Razumkov center told the Reuters news agency. "Ukrainian entry into NATO is no longer on the agenda, above all because neither side is ready for it..."
What the Western media is overlooking in this decision is that it is in line with what a majority of Ukrainians want. And what they want, according to the polls at least, is no NATO membership.
A September 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, found that half of Ukrainians (51%) opposed their country's admission to NATO, while only 28% favored such a step. Moreover, given the opposition to membership, it is not surprising that about half of Ukrainians (51%) gave NATO an unfavorable rating.
But Western elites are another matter. While some analysts predict Western leaders won't be too please with Yanukovich's decisions, others say the West was expecting it.
Speaking to the UPI news agency, Stefan Meister, an analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin think tank, said, "NATO won't be too displeased because this step has been expected"
Meister explains Ukraine's decision to stop courting NATO does not mean Kiev is breaking all if any practical ties with the military alliance.
"Other cooperation with the alliance will not cease," explains Meister.
Under Yushchenko, Ukraine moved to the head of the class when it came to doing Washington's bidding.
Ukraine, not a NATO member, has participated in every one of the alliance's major operations of the past years -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Operation Active Endeavour, the sea-based NATO anti-terror mission.
Kiev will continue this approach, said Kostiantyn Yeliseyev, the country's deputy foreign minister, but not press for membership anytime soon.
For Meister and other analysts, the motivation for Yanukovich's move is gas: Ukraine long dogged by unpaid gas bills to Moscow is trying to negotiate new gas contracts.
Scrapping the NATO bodies is a bargaining chip, the Ukrainians hope, in securing better gas prices.
"Ukraine wants something from Russia -- and that's lower gas prices and financial loans,"Meister told UPI.
While some have argued that Ukraine's outdated, unfit military was years away from joining NATO, it's hard to argue that Kiev would not have brought some firepower to the alliance.
If it were a member today, its standing army would be second only to the United States and Turkey in terms of size. Additionally, Ukraine, which has deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, is moving toward an all-volunteer force starting this year. Its last conscription was last year.
Saddling Ukraine and Georgia into the NATO corral has been a long-term objective of Washington. The idea has been backed by "New Europe" the former East Bloc states who push Washington to pursue a hardline vis-a-vis Moscow.
But in Western capitals, namely Paris and Berlin, there was lukewarm support at best for allowing these two countries in for fears of stirring the cart with the Russians.
Overall, however, Washington's drive to conscript more and more nations into the world's most lethal fighting force continue apace.
Montenegro was issued an "action plan" to join the alliance last December. Last month, NATO held military exercises in the Baltic Sea.
The Black Sea is no stranger to US military vessels either.
At least seven US warships have visited Georgian ports since its August 2008 war with Russia, including the USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the US Sixth Fleet, which visited a few weeks after the conflict.
Ukraine's rejection of NATO may turn out to be just a blimp in Washington's grand scheme.