Russia in Ukraine's Foreign Policy in 2010 as Seen in Political Discourse

Article excerpt

Abstract: In this article, I attempt to answer this question: can Ukraine's recent foreign policy toward Russia be effectively understood by studying Ukrainian political discourse? I argue that during the studied period, the official Ukrainian discourse and rhetoric on Ukrainian-Russian relations was generally positive. Some of the most important details and decisions in the intergovernmental negotiations were not disclosed; the real discourse of politicians and power structures remained closed and sacral. I also identify some general tendencies in bilateral relations.

Keywords: bilateral relations, political discourse, Russia, Ukraine foreign policy

The overwhelming influence of Russia on the economic and political development of Ukraine, and the cultural and ethnic ties between the two peoples, make relations with Russia a key variable of Ukraine's foreign policy. For Ukraine, the centrality of these relations has not been undermined by officially declared changes in regional priorities, nor by attempts by former President Viktor Yushchenko to integrate Ukraine into European structures of cooperation at the expense of ties with Russia. From 2005-2009, Ukraine remained vulnerable to Russia's pressure, largely dependent on natural gas imports from the latter.

In this article, I will specifically analyze Ukrainian policy toward Russia in 2010. The year witnessed considerable changes in Ukraine's foreign policy, particularly in Ukrainian-Russian relations; the country's newly president, Viktor Yanukovych, made an effort to "normalize" ties with Ukraine's eastern neighbor. As more than a year has passed since President Viktor Yanukovych came into office, it now seems possible to study and describe Ukrainian-Russian relations in light of new Ukrainian foreign policy discourse. In particular, I will focus on whether Ukraine's policy toward Russia can be effectively understood through the analysis of Ukrainian political discourse.

The Analytical Framework

Here, I will rely on a discourse analysis approach. According to this approach, discourses "provide the basis on which policy preferences, interests and goals are constructed." (1) Discourses legitimize political institutions--including the state--along with the policies and actions of politicians and other political actors. Moreover, there is also widespread agreement that discourses are systems of signification; that is, that reality is socially constructed by people who give significance to objects in the material world. (2)

Usually, the dominant political discourse--that which is formed by a ruling power--is divided in to two types: public and closed. The public political discourse is reflected in official documents, the mass media, and through radio and television; the closed discourse (the more significant, influential type) is hidden from outside observers, and its content can be only partly revealed through leaks of information. Therefore, analyzing merely the public aspects of power discourse does not allow us to see what is happening behind the political scenes; one can only gather an idea about general problems and tendencies. In the given state of affairs, the analyst may benefit from studying alternative discourses (oppositional, expert, academic and so on), and this helps to partially resolve the problem. My choice of the sources for discourse analysis was determined by the above-mentioned circumstances. Thus, I intend not only to describe the dominant discourse, but to analyze the alternative discourses of those excluded from the policy area: opposition representatives, experts, and the public.

Both primary and secondary sources of information are utilized in this study: official statements and speeches, national and international legal and political documents, mass media reports and interviews, academic texts, expert reports, and public opinion polls. The analysis is focused on key statements regarding Russia made by the Ukrainian president, the prime minister and the foreign affairs minister in 2010. …