Ukraine toughens Moscow stance

Ukraine toughens Moscow stance

Ukraine is a rare western ally on post-Soviet turf and has much at stake in Tbilisi’s bloody standoff... Gaining control of Crimea, even in a peacekeeping role as in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, would fully secure Russia’s influence...

Along with Georgia, Ukraine is a rare western ally on post-Soviet turf and has much at stake in Tbilisi’s bloody standoff with their bullying neighbour, Russia.

As the US presidential hopeful John McCain pointed out, “the implications” of Russian military aggression go beyond the territorial integrity and independence of a Georgia, but also threaten other young democracies in the region.

“Russia is using violence against Georgia, in part, to intimidate other neighbours – such as Ukraine – for choosing to associate with the west and adhering to western political and economic values.”

When the conflict first broke out, Kyiv joined western countries in calling for a ceasefire, but took a tougher line on Sunday with diplomatic rhetoric warning Moscow that if its naval ships were used to attack Georgia, they would not be welcome back to the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

The port is leased as a base to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Tensions are high. Russia blames Ukraine for selling arms to Georgia that have killed Russian soldiers.

Few expect the Georgian-Russia military clash to spread to Ukraine, a country of 46m citizens that borders, and wants to join, the European Union. But it could delay security guarantees for both Kiev and Tbilisi, which seek Nato membership, and inspire separatists in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

At an April summit, Nato members designated Ukraine and Georgia as future military alliance members, but delayed a decision on kick-starting the process until a December summit.

Svante Cornell, director of the Institute for Security & Development Policy, said Georgia’s conflict could play into Russia’s geopolitical interests, raising reservations with senior Nato members, such as France and Germany. Both have hesitated over opening the door to Nato for Kyiv and Tbilisi, fearing a backlash from Russia.

In provoking Georgia into a war, Russia seeks to portray Georgia as “reckless” and scare Nato away from the volatile ex-Soviet region, Mr Cornell said.

Unlike Georgia and many other ex-Soviet states, Ukraine has avoided military conflicts since the USSR collapsed. But if it gets too close to the Georgia-Russia conflict, cautious support for its Nato bid could wane.

Speaking to the Financial Times, a Nato official said, “We are very concerned” with the South Ossetia situation. It involved “key partners” and aspiring alliance members. “It’s impossible to predict” how the conflict could affect Georgia’s and Ukraine’s Nato bids; “each country would be judged by its own merits,” the official added.

Mr Cornell said the conflict was also a sign of Russia’s intention to ”preserve its domination in the region showing what happens to those who oppose.”

Like Georgia, Ukraine remains defiant, and on Monday demanded Russia sign an agreement pledging not to use its Ukraine-based fleet to attack Georgia. Kyiv wants Russia’s fleet out of Crimea when a 2017 lease agreement ends. Moscow is keen on staying.

Georgia’s President,Mikheil Saakashvili warns that Russia’s backing of separatists in his country could next be applied to Crimea, where a large Russian population wants unification with Moscow.

Gaining control of Crimea, even in a peacekeeping role as in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, would fully secure Russia’s influence in both the Caucasus and Black Sea regions. And as the South Ossetia clash shows, going against Moscow could prove dangerous.

By Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv, Financial Times

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