Yulia Tymoshenko weighs in on the state of Russia-West relations with a harshly worded opinion piece to be published in Foreign Affairs.
By Ilya Khineyko
It is not hard to notice that since the beginning of the latest political crisis in Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko has been in the limelight, whereas Yulia Tymoshenko has taken a backseat in the negotiations between the opposition and the ruling coalition. Yet, while the President is preoccupied with domestic affairs, canceling his trips abroad (including a state visit to Russia), it appears that Yulia Tymoshenko has been engaged in an entirely different battle of her own, for the hearts and minds of Western political elites.
In early March, Tymoshenko embarked on a three-day junket to Washington where she met with the former and current state secretaries Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice as well as with vice-president Dick Cheney and other influential figures in the American political establishment. After the crisis broke out interviews with her appeared in Western media and on April 5, she published an article in the Guardian with a self-explanatory title “Put it to the People,” pleading for Europe’s support for Yushchenko’s decision to hold snap elections. In this string of foreign policy initiatives, one development that is yet to take place may prove to be of lasting importance. Although it has become a commonplace for post-Soviet politicians to use Western media to propagate their views, Yulia Tymoshenko is reportedly trying to venture into somewhat different territory. According to the Russian newspaper, Vremya Novostey, Yulia Tymoshenko’s analytical treatise entitled “Containing Russia” is to be published in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs at the end of this month. The author of the newspaper article, Fyodor Lukyanov, who is also editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in the Global Affairs, entitled it “the Tymoshenko doctrine,” stating that Western policy towards Russia has acquired a new ideologue.
Below are some excerpts from Lukyanov’s article:
Although Tymoshenko rules out the possibility of a new “Cold War”, the Ukrainian revolutionary [passionarii] argues that after the collapse of communism the West has failed to come up with a realistic policy towards Moscow. Western partners have focused on assistance to reforms, which are no substitute for “a determined effort to contain traditional Russian expansionism.” The West acted as if “former diplomatic considerations did not apply. Yet they must apply, for Russia straddles the world’s geopolitical heartland and is heir to a remorseless imperial tradition”
Tymoshenko is critical about the results of this approach: “Instead of getting Russia involved in the system of dialogue and cooperation when she was weak…the West ignored her.” In a nutshell, the Ukrainian ex-premier’s argument can be summed up as follows: no matter how successful the policy of reforms has been, Russia will always remain an essentially imperial state. “The West should strive to create a system of checks against Russian expansionism instead of betting everything on the success of domestic reforms in Russia.”
”If there is one country toward which Europeans — and, indeed, the entire West — should share a common foreign policy, it is Russia.” Tymoshenko maintains that there is a need for immediate action because “dependence on Russian energy supplies will only continue to grow.”
She also contends that due to its lucrative energy revenues the Kremlin has lost a “sense of proportion,” as it has acquired an exaggerated idea regarding its own powers.
“The West should support Russia when it pushes for democracy and free markets but bolster the obstacles to its imperial ambitions. Indeed, Russian reform will be strengthened if Russia is encouraged to concentrate — for the first time in its history — on developing its national territory, which sprawls over 11 time zones from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, leaving no rational cause for claustrophobia.”
Lukyanov is correct to conclude that Tymoshenko is trying to adopt, what he calls, “a truly anti-Russian foreign policy course.” If ‘expansionism’ that threatens the West is indeed the essence of Russian foreign policy, Ukraine becomes not only a natural, but also the strategic ally of utmost importance. Yet, Tymoshenko’s inflammatory rhetoric, with its deliberate allusions to the Cold War era, is likely intended to convey another, more subtle, message, which has more to do with the ongoing power struggle between her party and Our Ukraine. To many in Washington and Brussels, Viktor Yushchenko still remains the main representative of the democratic, pro-Western camp in Ukraine. Despite her active involvement in the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko’s populist rhetoric and the baggage of shady business dealings in the past have had a negative impact on her standing in the West. Despite the fact that the Tymoshenko Bloc has been able to gain significant electoral ground at the expense of Our Ukraine, in the realm of foreign policy Yushchenko still holds an advantage. It appears that Yulia Tymoshenko is determined to change that. Casting herself as an unequivocal opponent of ‘Russian expansionism’ and a staunch defender of Western interests, Tymoshenko is seeking to distance herself from the conciliatory approach in relations with Russia favored by the current President. If successful, it would help her to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming the most credible representative of the pro-Western forces in Ukrainian politics abroad.
Predictably, Tymoshenko’s bold statements prompted a stern rebuke from Russian officials. Here’s Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rection as reported by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti:
“Obviously, it is some kind of an anti-Russian manifesto, an attempt to draw new dividing lines in Europe and bring the world back to the atmosphere of the Cold War,” the Foreign Ministry’s press department said.
Commenting on Tymoshenko’s arguments, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the article leaves the impression that she wrote it with the assistance of Kennan’s compatriots, “who continue to dwell in the past,” and “feel nostalgic” about the relations in Europe based on military confrontation.
“Despite the end of the Cold War, there are still forces in global politics that cannot step over their own ego and overcome the intellectual and political-psychological inheritance of that period, including plans to ‘contain Russia’,” the ministry said in a statement.