American specialists on Ukrainian affairs are often confronted, when in Ukraine, with the contradictions of great power policy toward Ukraine. Why, we are asked, is Ukraine not treated equally to Russia? Why, for example, does the US ignore massive human rights abuses by the Russian government in Chechnya, while at the same time putting pressure on Ukraine over minor issue such as the pirating of compact discs? Western scholars are also often asked to explain the hypocrisies in certain aspects of western governments' policies. Why, for example, do the US and European Union preach the virtues of the free market, while closing off important sectors of their markets to Ukrainian exports? Many Ukrainians seem to conclude that if the US and European Union, who are supposed to be symbols of justice in the world, cannot behave more fairly toward Ukraine, then Ukraine should not bother doing what these states ask. That would probably be a dangerous conclusion.
This article will first address the sources of US and EU policy toward Ukraine. A brief examination will help explain why policies are not always consistent, and not always "fair" in some abstract sense. The short answer is that, despite all the rhetoric about democracy, freedom, and the free market, most countries policies are motivated by self-interest, and there are important factors that prevent them from deviating too far from that line. However, even if we conclude that western policies toward Ukraine are self-interested, and hence often "unfair" to Ukraine, we cannot conclude that Ukraine
should turn away. Rather, we must conclude that Ukraine too should base its policies on its interests. Turning away from the west would mean either complete isolation, or else turning toward other actors, such as Russia, that are no less self-interested than the US, and have considerably less to offer Ukraine in the long run.
The Sources of US Policy Toward Ukraine
From the Ukrainian perspective, it often seems ... Read more