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Henry M. Robert

“Politically, you are the ‘elder’ brother, while Russia is the ‘younger’ one”

Zbigniew Brzezinski on threats to Ukraine’s independence
7 June, 2012 - 00:00

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a well-known American political scientist, a professor at Johns Hopkins University; a counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a cochairman of the CSIS Advisory Board, is closely following the events in Ukraine. He is well informed of what is going on in this country, which was confirmed by a video conference held the other day at the Institute of World Politics. The former national security advisor to the US president said, among other things, that the Greater West would be impossible unless it incorporated Ukraine which could in turn “democratize” Russia.

The Day was one of the first to support Brzezinski’s idea to relocate the Council of Europe headquarters to Kyiv, calling it “the plan of a century.” “As any gravitation of Russia towards the West is likely to be followed (or even preceded) by a similar gravitation of Ukraine, the institutional seat of this collective advisory body should be located, at least temporarily, in Kyiv, the ancient capital of Kyivan Rus’ which maintained effective contacts with the West a thousand years ago. The location of such a center in Eastern Europe to the north of Turkey will symbolize the revival of the West’s viability and expansion of its territory,” he says in the book Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.

At the beginning of his dialogue with Ukrainian experts and foreign-affairs journalists, Mr. Brzezinski emphasized again the importance of Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey being part of the Greater West. “Ukraine is undoubtedly needed for the future links between the West and Russia as an independent and democratic country which can successfully maintain good-neighborly relations with Russia and, at the same time, will be more and more closely linked with and reciprocally open to Europe,” he said.

Mr. Brzezinski expressed concern over the fact Ukraine is losing its role in these processes and its leadership is degrading. In his words, under the current president, the Ukrainians have opted for a policy that gradually reduces Ukraine’s dependence on Russia. At the same time, this also reduces the chances of becoming part of Europe, which poses a serious threat to Ukrainian independence. “Without any specific names, I can say that the true problem lies in an extremely low level of patriotism among the political elites,” the US political scientist continues. “High political elites in Ukraine are mostly concerned about their own prosperity, wealth and, as a result, we see chaotic communications and the lack of strategic axis for Ukraine.”

The political scientist tried not to name names, but he still said: “When President Yanukovych began [his presidency], he was treated with great respect. He pleasantly surprised everybody with the way he worked: he knew very well how to maneuver between the West and Russia. But persecuting his personal enemies has damaged all this. A country that has political prisoners cannot be regarded as a candidate for a higher level of association with the European Union.”

At the same time, Brzezinski called upon everybody to look at the example of Poland which has become a successful country in the past 20 years and joined the EU and NATO. “The point is that the Poles have a feeling of national identity. Their leaders are working for affluence, wellbeing, and independence, instead of lining their pockets with all kinds of perks from the oligarchic clan that is in power now,” he said.

A Ukrainian expert noted that, unlike Poland, Ukraine had suffered very much from the Soviet regime, the Holodomor, etc. But Brzezinski reminded him that very much of the like had happened in Poland, too: it also suffered from Hitler and Stalin. “Communism held sway in Poland for 40 years. So the Poles had similar hardships and troubles. But the Poles were far more aware of and devoted to the cause of independence. If we take a deeper look into the historical tradition, we will see that, much to our regret, Ukraine was part of the tsarist empire in the previous period. Your national development was delayed to some extent, and now you should catch up with this,” the political scientist said in reply.

Broaching the subject of Ukrainian-Russian relations, Brzezinski emphasized that they should be good-neighborly. “You have so much in common, a common history with bad, evil, and terrible things. But you can be good neighbors, as are, for example, Canada and the US. They are good neighbors, although there is a certain disproportion between the powers of the two states, but in the case of Ukraine and Russia the disproportion is much smaller,” the political scientist explains. “You have about a third of the Russian population and, in a sense, you have made greater progress in your development. You also have, in a sense, an advantage over Russia. Politically, you are the ‘elder’ brother, while Russia is the ‘younger’ one. Kyivan Rus’ was the prototype of Ukraine. From this angle, you have had more ties with the West, and you can help Russia become part of the democratic West, and play an important role there. Therefore, your strategic position gives you an opportunity to be the creative prime mover of what is required for global stability. Otherwise, the Eurasian continent will get unbalanced to a high degree.”

Asked if Ukraine needs to join NATO and the EU to become a successful country, Brzezinski said that everything depends on the will of the Ukrainians. “But it is important to be part of the Greater West. For example, Norway is not a member of NATO and the European Union. Sweden is not a NATO member. There is no urgent need for this, but it is desirable, for you would benefit from membership in one of these organizations. But, in the final analysis, it is up to a democratic country to decide what organization it wants to join,” Mr. Brzezinski emphasized.

The experts also asked if Russia could repeat the 2008 Georgian scenario with respect to Ukraine and whether Ukraine would be able to defend itself. Brzezinski answered that “the Ukrainians themselves can prevent this.” “Even though your population is only 45 million, you are people with a feeling of territorial integrity, and I strongly doubt that even the most ambitious version of Russian imperialism will dare try to unleash a conflict, as it did in the case of Georgia.”

In conclusion, Brzezinski repeated that he believes in Ukraine’s future. He also noticed that there were a lot of young people in the room and confessed that he was banking on “a generation that has been living in an independent state for 20 years now.” “Your generation must tell the current leadership that you are tired of all the games, secret deals, ‘rules’ of vision, opportunistic decisions, and vengeance against political opponents,” Mr. Brzezinski added. “This is not the Ukraine you need and deserve!”

By Ihor SAMOKYSH, The Day
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