'Two's Company, Three's a Crowd"; the Role of Central Europe in Ukrainian Security

Article excerpt

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

Geopolitical Situation

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. …