WORLD AFFAIRS.  Pity Ukraine’s foreign minister, Kostyantyn Gryshchenko. He’s a powerless official with a powerless portfolio claiming to speak for a government with no foreign policy. Small wonder that President Viktor Yanukovych has turned him into a one-man PR firm with the impossible job of improving Ukraine’s dismal image in the West.

After Ukraine’s Constitution was amended last fall and Yanukovych grabbed control of the entire government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was effectively transformed into a handmaiden of the president and Gryshchenko, a highly respected career diplomat, became Yanukovych’s front man. And since Yanukovych has no foreign policy, Gryshchenko has nothing to do but mouth bromides and smile a lot.

Consider three of his recent forays into the press.

On February 5, he wrote about Ukraine’s foreign policy in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He starts by noting that Europe is still divided into the “Europe of the West and, in the East, the Europe of the rest.” Then he says that Ukraine has also been divided in just the same manner — unwittingly implying that western Ukraine is like Western Europe and that Yanukovych’s fiefdom in eastern Ukraine is the backward “rest.” Oops. So how did both divides come about? The “former government” is largely to blame by trying to include Ukraine in NATO, a policy “the majority of the population did not support.” Say that again? Surely Gryshchenko remembers that NATO membership was President Kuchma’s idea and that Yanukovych supported it wholeheartedly before the Orange Revolution. It was Yanukovych who, in 2005–2009, transformed Kuchma’s non-controversial policy of balancing between East and West into his main line of attack against the Orange leadership and thereby exacerbated the east-west divide in Ukraine.

After this inauspicious start, Gryshchenko quickly wanders off to la-la land. He goes on to claim that Yushchenko’s foreign policy “led to serious tensions between the West and Russia” and that Yanukovych’s change of course “has freed Europe from a political ballast that could at worst have led to a new ‘cold war.’” Now hold your horses, podner! To think for a moment that Ukraine’s NATO aspirations — or lack thereof — could have any influence on Western relations with Russia is absurd. Sorry, but Ukraine just doesn’t matter, and everybody knows it.

Deep down, Gryshchenko knows it too, because, just as you figure he’ll get back to earth, he doesn’t — opting instead for the clouds. So what are Yanukovych’s goals? “On the one hand, Ukraine supports the Russian idea of common security for the entire OSCE space.” After all, given “Ukraine’s unique geopolitical situation and vocation, peaceful coexistence with all its neighbors is the sole realistic model of guaranteeing security for us.” On the other hand, “we rely on the guarantees we received from the nuclear states when in 1994 we surrendered our own nuclear arsenal.”

Think about what Gryshchenko has just said. First, both the common space and the supposed security guarantees depend entirely on what Russia and the West do. Ukraine can only sit on its hands and hold its breath. Second, neither of these goals is even close to being a reality. Common European security is at best a far-off hope, while the security guarantees Ukraine supposedly received in 1994 are worth about as much as the paper they’re printed on.

Combine both pipe dreams, add a pinch of mendacity, stir well — and you get Yanukovych’s foreign policy: zero-proof bootleg vodka. Unfortunately, since Russia, Germany, France, and the United States are actively pursuing their own national interests, Yanukovych’s non-foreign non-policy translates into Ukraine’s subordination to their foreign-policy priorities. And since the country with the most direct influence on Ukraine happens to be Russia, Yanukovych’s nothing policy effectively amounts to a Russia-first policy.

Since a nothing policy transforms Gryshchenko into a non-foreign minister, it’s not surprising that his other two forays into the Western press, a February 12 letter to the Wall Street Journal and a February 14 interview with Foreign Policy, have almost nothing to do with foreign policy. Instead, Gryshchenko tries in his letter to paint Yanukovych as a reformist democrat. “Since it took office nearly one year ago, the Yanukovych administration has worked tirelessly to advance Ukraine’s democratic ambitions, improve the electoral process, expand the rule of law and begin major program of social and economic reform.” As Gryshchenko knows, scores of independent international and domestic Ukrainian observers have documented severe backsliding with respect to democracy, elections, and rule of law under his boss. Which means that, if Gryshchenko is right, the rest of the world is bonkers. If the world is right, then Gryshchenko is, er, veracity-challenged.

So when Gryshchenko tells Foreign Policy that “Corruption undermines the ability of the country to reshape itself and to move forward on what we see as our major priority in foreign and internal policy: joining the EU. To accomplish this we must bring European standards into all sectors of our social and economic life,” just how is the West to respond? If it takes this statement seriously, then why is Yanukovych dismantling democracy? (And why did a parliamentary committee investigating the December 16th pogrom perpetrated by Yanukovych’s Regionnaire thugs whitewash the pogromchiks?) If the West doesn’t take Gryshchenko seriously, then why doesn’t he promote Yanukovych’s democratic credentials in democratic Uzbekistan? Indeed, do Yanukovych and Gryshchenko take themselves seriously? Have they even considered whether Ukraine should aspire to join the EU before “common security for the entire OSCE space” is attained or after? Or are the two goals to be pursued simultaneously?  

Of course, none of these questions matters, as Yanukovych’s non-foreign non-policy is a function of the Kremlin’s brutal foreign policy. Which may explain why poor Gryshchenko is the non-foreign minister: he used to be Ukraine’s ambassador to Moscow.

Alexander J Motyl

Ukrayinska Dumka


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