In an interview with the Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service, former US national security adviser, currently CSIS Counselor and Trustee Zbigniew Brzezinski shares his views on the Obama administrations’ initiative to “reset” relations with Russia, on dilemmas the US faces in its policies toward Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine, as well as on challenges facing Ukraine today and following the next presidential elections in January. The interview was conducted by Myroslava Gongadze.
MG: In the process of “resetting” relations with Russia it seems that the Obama administration still has not formulated a US strategy toward the region, toward Eastern Europe and particularly toward Ukraine. What do you think should be the new administration’s priorities in that part of the world?
ZB: I think the Obama administration has a good slogan – “reset.” But it’s also very vague and a little childish. You don’t “reset” a serious relationship. You try to strategically shape it. And I think the United States has essentially two seemingly contradictory goals to pursue, which, in fact, ultimately are not contradictory. One of them is to have a more cooperative relationship with Russia. Russia is an important country. We do have some common interests, which we ought to pursue, for example, in South-Central Asia, the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, disarmament, nuclear stability in general. These are legitimate and important objectives. But we also have another objective, namely, the consolidation of political pluralism in the space of the former Soviet Union and of the former Soviet bloc. That means, for example, and very specifically, again, that Georgia is not undermined, that Ukraine is not turned into a satellite. Now, superficially, these two objectives may seem in conflict. But in fact they are not. Because if Georgia survives, if Ukraine prospers, the chances are, in fact, greater in the long run that Russia will become a post-imperial democratic state. If Georgia or Ukraine falter, Russia again becomes an empire, with growing ambitions, which makes a long-term profitable relationship with it more difficult. So the contradiction is in fact superficial. In reality, we have to pursue intelligently both aspects of our relationship in a larger sense with Russia and that cannot be defined by a simple slogan such as “reset” the relationship.
MG: Do you agree with Senator Lugar, who said that the United States have to be more active in Ukraine, especially in this period leading up to the presidential elections?
ZB: I agree with that and I have been saying things of this sort for a long time myself. But, quite honestly, since this is addressed to a Ukrainian audience, I have to say in all frankness, that the ultimate responsibility for preserving Ukrainian independence rests on the shoulders of the Ukrainian people and of the Ukrainian elite. And I find it depressing to look at the top-level divisions in the democratic independence camp, at the internal feuding, at the intrigues, at the opportunities for a foreign power to manipulate internal affairs in Ukraine. And being of Polish origin I am also aware of the fact that what Ukraine is experiencing today is depressingly similar to what Poland experienced in the Eighteenth century. At that time Poland was essentially dominated by an elite that was aristocratic, that was wealthy, that was entrenched in various interests, and was manipulated by foreign powers, such as Prussia, Austria, and Russia. And the result was the loss of independence. Today, we have an oligarchic elite in Ukraine, that is in the pay of foreign interests, that is manipulating the wealth of the country for its own benefit and is not genuinely committed to the shaping of a nationally based Ukrainian democracy, which can then be an attractive object of European expansion. You cannot expect the Europeans west of Ukraine or people here in America to be more pro-Ukrainian than the Ukrainians. And I say this with emphasis, because Ukraine is now approaching presidential elections and these elections are going to be manipulated from the outside, for the purpose of reducing Ukrainian independence, perhaps even of turning Ukraine again into a satellite or even part of a larger imperial system, including perhaps even some loss of territory.
MG: When you are talking about “from the outside,” what do you mean?
ZB: I think most Ukrainians know what I am talking about. And if they don’t know, then they are so politically uneducated after twenty years of independence that it would almost despairing.
MG: When there is a new president in Ukraine, what do you think should be his or her main goals in terms of domestic policy and foreign policy?
ZB: Well, I would say it’s the same thing, domestic and foreign, that is to say to really consolidate a genuinely respectable democracy in Ukraine, which makes Ukraine an attractive object of interest for the rest of Europe. Culturally, Ukraine is a part of Europe. It is important to translate that into political, socio-economic realities. Nobody in Europe was begging Poland to be part of the European Union. The Poles became part of the European Union because they became attractive to the European Union. They showed that they’re determined to be a European state in every respect. That made it possible for Poland to be what it is today. Ukraine could be like Poland in five to ten years, with the right leadership and with the right national
MG: One more question – about the future of Ukraine in NATO. Some say Ukraine could have a better relationship with Russia even if it became a member of NATO or of any other security organization in Europe. Do you agree with that? Do you see Ukraine in NATO?
ZB: I think it depends again on the attitude of the Ukrainian people. If Ukraine becomes a part of NATO, as a country split within, with limited support for membership in NATO, it’s not going to help Ukraine, because it will become in itself a source of division, which other powers can exploit. The point of departure for membership in NATO is a Ukrainian national identity that has a defined geopolitical outlook and on the basis of a significant national unanimity then desires to be part of NATO. Look again at the experience of Poland. Poland did not become a member of NATO with only thirty percent of the people favoring membership in NATO. It was the overwhelming desire of the people to be in NATO that convinced NATO that the addition of Poland would be a source of greater stability in Central Europe, and would in fact enhance the NATO alliance and make the European situation more stable. If Poland was not a member of NATO, but divided within, Poland could today be in the same situation as Georgia. That is not the option that the Ukrainians should entertain. It’s about time that the political elite of Ukraine and the new generation of Ukrainians, in a calm and rational fashion, consider how best to structure their relationship with Europe, and with Russia, in such a way that Ukraine is a viable, secure, independent state. And that does not mean antagonism towards Russia. It doesn’t mean moving to NATO in order to be anti-Russian. It means creating a wider system of European stability and cooperation, in which Ukraine, a country of forty-five million people, potentially a wealthy country, could play a very important role, thereby also encouraging Russia to move more to the West. I think Ukraine, in a way, can help to shape the future of Russia, and to give Russia greater security and a role to play in the world. Because, otherwise, a Russia between a billion and a half Chinese, 550 million Europeans – much wealthier than the Russians -- will be an empty space with a declining population. So, in many respects, if Ukraine evolves constructively, it can help assure Russia a much more promising future.