A brief look at the political and economic data for the Central European(1) countries could lead us to think that these countries, irreversibly set on the path to membership in European political and military organizations, could simply decide to ignore their Eastern neighbors. There is indeed a strong temptation to follow the road first traveled by the Czech Republic since 1993: to jettison neighbors and regional cooperation in the blind struggle to join Western institutions. Indeed, the gap in economic performance between Ukraine and the Central European countries is so large that from a certain, economic perspective talks about a new "wall" dividing Europe start seeming more real than far-fetched.(2)
Yet, as I would like to show in this article, the security concerns of Central Europe and Ukraine are related in ways that go beyond their differences in economic performance. Indeed, the Ukrainian-Central European relationship is one of the keys to future stability in Europe and continued economic growth in the Visegrad countries. As stated by Kuzio, "no solution to Central Europe's security concerns will be comprehensive without dealing with Russian and Ukrainian security fears and threat perceptions."(3)
I begin this article by sketching several aspects of Ukraine's domestic and international situation which set the basis for its relationship with the Central European states. On this basis, I then discuss several ways in which the Central European states can play a constructive role in Ukrainian security. I end with some considerations about the importance of Ukraine for Central European security, and about the significance of this link from the perspective of Western security interests as well.
UKRAINE'S SITUATION AND ITS IMPACT ON RELATIONS WITH CENTRAL EUROPE
Relations between Ukraine and the Central European states can hardly be considered as simply "bilateral" On the contrary, the very nature of Ukraine's geopolitical situation puts the country at the center of a variety of economic, political, strategic and cultural relationships involving third countries, first and foremost Russia.
From a purely geopolitical perspective, Ukraine could be affected by several conflicts of a triangular nature. As stated by Dunn, "as a former super-power and a still great regional power, Russia retains interests in South-eastern Europe (e.g., in the Balkans and Moldova/Trans-Dniester) which can be most easily accessed via Ukraine."(4) Other ethnic and territorial conflicts existing in the former Soviet bloc can also play an important role in the creation of "security triangles" and multi-lateral relationships involving Ukraine and Eastern Europe in addition to Russia.
We can identify at least four such multi-lateral relationships: a "Ukraine-Russia-Moldova-Romania" axis a "Ukraine-Moldova-Romania-Hungary" axis, a "Ukraine-Belorus-Russia" triangle, and a "Ukraine-Central Europe-Russia" triangle. These multilateral relationships can be understood as "axis" along which Russia might be drawn into Ukrainian politics in the pursuit of interests elsewhere in the region. Russia could be drawn into Ukrainian politics through the workings of the "Ukraine-Russia-Moldova-Romania" axis in the following way: any unification of Moldova with Romania (an increasingly remote possibility) could lead to the full secession of the Slavic-dominated Trans-Dnestria and could involve Ukraine, not only because of the large number of ethnic Ukrainians in the region, but also because the Russian-dominated leadership in Trans-Dnestria has cooperated with Russian separatists elsewhere in Ukraine (Crimea). The presence of Russia's 14th Army in Moldova, often acting outside any official line of control from Moscow, is also perceived as a threat by Ukraine. Moreover, any Russian military intervention in the Trans-Dniester would directly or indirectly affect Ukraine as well.(5)
A possible "Ukraine-Moldova-Romania-Hungary" axis would involve a situation in which, were Moldova ever to reunite with Romania, it would do so only on the basis of an autonomous status which, in turn, could fuel Hungarian demands for autonomous status in Transylvania. At the same time, such chain of events could also involve Russia, as the example of territorial concessions could set up a potentially dangerous precedent of border revisions in the region.(6)
Of these multi-lateral relationships, the most significant is the security triangle taking shape between Ukraine, Central Europe, and Russia, and in which relations between any two of the partners have important effects on other relationships in the group. The state of the Ukrainian-Russian relationship sets the stage for Central European perceptions of and policies towards Russia; Russia herself follows with occasional apprehension the growing relationship between Ukraine and its Western neighbors. Because of the important questions surrounding the issue of NATO expansion, the Ukrainian-Russian-Central European "security triangle" acquires more importance for the West. We devote the rest of this article to discussing some aspects of this relationship.
Domestic Political Geography
The linguistic, economic and political differences between Ukraine's eastern and western regions have added to the indeterminacy of the country's foreign policy interests. The great differences between Ukraine's regions make it difficult to build consensus about national interests and, in particular, relations with Russia. The realities of Ukraine's domestic fragmentation and lack of a tradition of statehood have made the Ukrainian leadership feel more vulnerable and has exacerbated their fears while making it difficult to build national consensus about foreign policy, affecting the relationship with Central Europe as well.
Economic and Energetic Situation
Ukraine's economic dependence on Russia--which supplies almost all of its oil and gas needs--is also an important factor conditioning its relationship with Central Europe. The situation has far-reaching implications for Ukraine's foreign relations: no matter what steps the country would like to take in its foreign policy, its real capacity to forge an independent foreign policy will be limited until it can achieve real energetic independence.(7)
Because a significant part of Russia's energy exports to Europe are channeled through Ukraine, this gives Ukraine a certain "leverage" in the relationship with Moscow. Already since late 1992, Ukraine started to use the pipelines to Europe as a `bargaining chip' in its relations with Moscow. As will be discussed below, this situation affects the Ukrainian-Russian relationship in a variety of ways. Stable energy supplies to Central Europe depend on good Ukrainian-Russian relations; moreover, Ukraine's …