Ukraine and Georgia: Between the Wider Europe and the New Russian Geopolitics

UkraineUkraine and Georgia, two states between East and West, are of interest for the European Union, for Russia and for the United States. Kiev and Tbilisi have not written their future yet, but we could make some prospects according to the current geopolitics of the region. Will Ukraine and Georgia make advances towards the European integration or will they stay under the Russian influence?

Ukraine, since its independence in 1991, has developed its relations with the European Union but, at the same time, Kiev has not neglected the Ukrainian relations with Russia. The President of the country, Viktor Yanukovych, considers the Ukrainian accession to the EU as one of the most important foreign policy priorities of Ukraine. However, Kiev will feel the pressure from Moscow to avoid the Ukraine’s approach to the EU because of the high economic dependence on Russia.

The future of Georgia in the European Union could depend on the possible Turkey’s EU membership. Geography is always an important factor for the cohesion of a state, and considering that the European Union is more than a simple international organization, it would not be easy to have a “European satellite” in the Caucasus without borders with other EU member states. The geopolitical situation of Georgia is fundamental for the USA. We could compare the meaning of Israel for United States in the Middle East with the importance of Georgia in the Caucasus. In both cases, US ambition consists of avoiding Russian influence on the region, not only due to geopolitical reasons but also because of economic and security interests. In the case that Georgia intensifies its bilateral relations with the USA in order to face Russia, this could move Georgia away from the EU aspirations and, paradoxically, Russia would have more influence on Georgia than if Tbilisi would make some steps towards Europe.

After the end of the Cold War, Russia has opposed important Western policies or proposals, such as NATO enlargement or the intervention in Yugoslavia. Ukraine and Georgia are two important candidates to join NATO, but Russia would consider the accession as a threat against its national interests. Moscow considers the enlargement of NATO to the East as a threat for its influence in these countries. As a consequence of that, we can understand that the aim of Russian foreign policy consists of reintroducing its hegemony over former Soviet states.

We can see that United States, over the past two decades, has always considered that Russian positions are determined due to psychological reasons, i.e. the loss of power and influence after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. That is why Washington tries to convince Moscow of accepting the international system which started to change in 1989.

The humiliation felt by Russians after the fall of the USSR and the fact that Russia felt undervalued in the new international stage, nourished the nationalist rhetoric that led Putin to the Kremlin in 2000. However, not only psychological reasons make Russia carry out some actions or maintain some positions that cause hostility to the USA or Europe, but also the protection of Russia’s national interests. One of the main objectives of Russia after the fall of the USSR is to maintain its influence in the former Soviet republics, in its periphery, in order to protect itself from any threat from abroad. Therefore, Ukraine and Georgia belong to this “ring of states” surrounding Russian borders. For Moscow it is crucial to maintain “friendly states” in its neighborhood, although this goal is not always achieved by the Kremlin.

In the medium and long term, the European Union is likely to have more influence in Ukraine and Georgia than Russia. Moscow will still depend mainly on the revenues from the EU due to the exports of Russian gas. The geographic proximity between the EU and Russia should make Moscow to realize that it’s necessary a closer political, economic and security cooperation with the EU. The fact that the borders of EU or NATO approach Russia through Georgia and Ukraine, should not be understood by Moscow as a threat to its sovereignty or to its national interests, but as an opportunity so that the improvement of bilateral relations can strengthen the national interests of both powers.

As a conclusion, political reforms in Russia will not be carried out with the help of the United States, but always through a closer cooperation with the EU. This cooperation could start with Georgia and Ukraine, with a clear dialogue of the intentions and the real possibilities of the future of both countries. If Kiev and Tbilisi approach the European Union, Brussels could intensify the relations with Russia, particularly in terms of security and defense policy.

The European geopolitical advantages will oblige Russia to need the support of Europe, particularly in political, economic and security terms, and Washington will have to admit that the EU is situated in the best place to take the leadership in the process of Russian’s transition towards democracy and for renewed relations of Russia with the West. Therefore, if Ukraine and Georgia make progress in the necessary reforms and make steps towards the EU, Russia, due to its dependence on Europe, will be forced to moderate its position towards both states and Kiev and Tbilisi will be free to decide their future.

Rubén Ruiz Calleja, Student of the Master in European Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Europe.

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