After the Russo- Georgian War, western-Russian relations have seen tension unheard of since the Cold War. Yet today, the former member of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, is also stuck in the middle of a crisis. Ukrainians today face the most danger from Russia than from any other country and poses one of the most delicate challenges to diplomacy between Russia and the West.
Currently there are two key issues that are causing sparks between Russia and Ukraine: NATO and The E.U. These two issues are causing increasing animosity between the two states. Between the two issues, the one that will likely cause the most harm to Ukraine is NATO membership.
During the Russo-Georgian War, President Viktor Yushchenko openly supported the Georgians in their struggle. This show of support worries Moscow, because Russia believes its former spheres of influence are slipping away and moving towards the West. This fear is leading Russia to try and restore its influence in many of its former Soviet States. Ukraine as a NATO member makes Russia fear that it will lose its grasp on one of the highly prized regions in the world.
Russia also fears that inclusion of Ukraine in NATO is a clear strategic advantage for the west if an attack ever occurred. NATO jets could strike the Russian capital in only a matter of 25 minutes from Ukraine. This causes many Russians to dread that the west is moving closer, boxing them in, which is leading to increased Russian aggression.
This increasing tension might force Russia to take drastic actions against the Ukraine and its people. For example, Russia could shut down its oil pipeline to Ukraine, one of the key supplies the Ukraine receives from Russia. This political move would cause gas shortages that would affect the entire country. Russia with this powerful tool can cause widespread turmoil beyond gas unavailability, including food shortages and a halt to Ukrainian industry. This tool can force the Ukrainians into capitulating to Russia's desires.
This prospect for Ukrainian NATO membership is dangerous in face of the consequences set forth by the Russians. Yet, there is one other option for Ukraine to increase its presence on the world stage and that is E.U membership.
The E.U, unlike NATO is not a largely military organization. This could be the solution that Ukraine is looking for, because the E.U can allow the Ukraine to expand its economy and work more in depth with countries of the European Union, with out the increased military threat NATO membership could pose Russia. While Russia is opposed to seeing Ukraine go in the E.U it seems unlikely that Russia would take direct action toward the Ukraine over the E.U. Membership in the E.U may be unpleasing to Russia, but it will benefit Ukraine while avoiding the travesty that would come with NATO membership.
In my opinion, Ukraine must give up its goals for inclusion in NATO despite the benefits, but continue to move forward towards E.U membership in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the citizenry of Ukraine.
Joshua Schoen is an 11th grade student at York Prep School in New York City. He gained interest in Ukraine while working with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation on the revitalization of Jewish communities in Ukraine.