For almost two decades the West and Russia waged a “war over Ukraine”, which at its peak threatened to divide Europe and Ukraine itself. Then came the economic crisis and the battlefield must now be seen in a totally different light. Suddenly Europe and Ukraine face a new reality and have to rethink their irrational fears, ambitions, fantasies and strategies toward themselves and Russia.
During the unchallenged Hegemon’s drive to construct its New World order, Ukraine elites, understandably, invested tremendous efforts into forging Ukraine-NATO-EU ties. From 1995 through 2000 more than 3,000 Ukrainian servicemen took part in NATO’s Bosnia and Kosovo missions. In June 2004, President Leonid Kuchma replaced Ukraine's 1993 Military Doctrine with a new one that portrayed NATO as the basis for the European security system and pledged to pursue the Euro-Atlantic integration. In 2003, 1,650 Ukraine troops were sent to Iraq and were withdrawn 30 months later after the loss of 18 lives. Ukraine was surreptitiously arming Georgia and her “volunteers” shot down four Russian planes in August 2008.
Ukraine’s strategy of playing Big Guys against each other in the hope to get more from each proved, however, to be disastrous. She did get some handouts but only puny foreign investments, and her membership in the Golden Club is as remote as ever.
I often drive to Crimea and can compare Central Russia with Eastern Ukraine. During the Soviet times, Ukraine’s living standards were somewhat higher than those of Russia; today they are significantly lower. Russia’s GNP per capita is four times that of Ukraine. Ukrainian population has shrunk by six million people and four million Ukrainian Gastarbeiters work in Russia. Ukraine’s once powerful machine-building industry is dilapidated and desperately needs total retooling and restructuring to survive. Conceivably, European companies can move some of their consumer goods assembly facilities to Ukraine, but Europe has no use for Ukrainian ships, rockets, tractors, airplanes, and tanks.
Only Russian capital and markets can help resuscitate and modernize Ukrainian heavy industry. For that to happen, Ukraine has to adopt a totally new strategy toward both Europe and Russia. First, she has to recognize that the Big Guys have their own problems and needs. What are these?
Russia needs manpower, equipment and modern managerial techniques for her huge development and modernization projects. However, in Russian eyes Europe is no longer the icon of modernity and progress. The state of the art technologies, the fastest trains and computers, the tallest buildings and so forth can today be found in the Far East.
Europe is suddenly facing her own geopolitical dilemma. Look at the map—Western Europe looks like a tiny peninsula in the northwestern corner of Eurasia— remarkably like Greece at the time of Roman Empire. If Europe continues its isolationist policy, it will face the prospect of turning into a community of squabbling nations whose economies stagnate and living standards are fall. To avoid degeneration along the lines of the ancient Greek civilization, Europe needs lebensraum for development and growth.
Here is where Ukraine’s historic chance lies. She should stop begging the EU to take her in as yet another client state. Instead, by joining the Russia-led Customs Union, Ukraine can help Europe to enter the Eurasian Economic Space. Huge markets of potentially some 250 million consumers of Eurasia have yet to be developed. Russia can’t do it alone.
“Ukraine’s geopolitical dilemma” abides in her sub-consciousness as a small-brother syndrome. It’s time for her to mature into an ambitious adult. She doesn’t have to move anywhere and join any Big Brother. Ukraine is a sovereign European state, and she could and should be a prosperous one. In fact, geographically, culturally and linguistically she is perfectly positioned for the role of Europe’s unifier. She should become the main driver of pan-European integration. Torn by the Mongol occupation, religious schisms and twentieth century wars, Europe should strive to become a whole body at last.
In conclusion, all European “geopolitical dilemmas” – those of Western Europe, Russia and Ukraine -- can be solved if they abandon brotherly squabbles and join forces in the Grand Eurasian Project. Putin’s offer of a free trade zone stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok seems to mean just that.
 Jeffrey Simon, Ukraine against Herself: To Be Euro-Atlantic, Eurasian, or Neutral? Strategic Forum, Iss. 238, Febr. 2009.
0Former Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, teaches “Leadership in the 21st century” at various business-schools in Moscow