WILL BUSH’S DAWDLING ON UKRAINIAN RECOGNITION FURTHER FUEL CHANCES FOR A SOVIET CHRISTMAS COUP?

(Washington, D.C.): The Bush
Administration’s decision to downshift
on early recognition of an independent
Ukraine — coming on the heels of a
debilitating series of domestic policy
flip-flops — represents a tragic
miscalculation that is likely to have
deleterious implications far beyond
short-term U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

This latest reversal evidently came
about after the President first attempted
to recoup his political losses with
ethnic American communities (resulting
from such slights as the infamous
“Chicken Kiev” speech in August
1991 and the woefully belated recognition
of the Baltic States) only to be
confronted with the wrath of his favorite
partner in “personal
diplomacy,” Mikhail Gorbachev. When
Mr. Bush reportedly sought to clear his
proposed speech on
“expeditious” recognition of
Ukraine with Gorbachev, the president of
the former Soviet Union read him the riot
act — warning that Ukrainian
independence would be “a catastrophe
for the Union, for the Ukraine itself and
for Russia, Europe and the world.”

In response, the White House began to
back away from what the President
described just last Wednesday in
a meeting with Ukrainian-Americans as
“prompt” recognition. At the
time, Mr. Bush said he saw no serious
impediments — either political or
financial — to such a step. This point
was repeatedly reiterated in a subsequent
meeting that day at the National Security
Council by NSC staffer Ed Hewitt who
underscored that there would be no
linkage
between U.S. recognition of
Ukraine and economic or debt
considerations
.

To the understandable surprise and
disappointment of key Ukrainian-American
leaders, the Bush Administration today
established not only that such
considerations do exist but that
they are, as a practical matter, conditions
which must be satisfied prior to
a formal extension of U.S. recognition to
Ukraine.

Fortunately, it appears likely that
the Bush “go-slower” strategy
toward recognition of Ukraine will fail.
Germany, Canada, Poland and Hungary
appear — properly — to be vying to
honor the wishes of the electorate of
this new, nuclear-armed state,
encompassing a territory larger than
France. When at least two G-7 capitals
are prepared de facto to certify
that the government of an independent
Ukraine will, in their judgment, behave
responsibly in connection with such
policies as the treatment of minorities
and other human rights, existing treaty
obligations, control of nuclear weapons
and free trade, it is inconceivable
that the United States will long refrain
from doing so.

Under normal circumstances, one might
argue that a couple of weeks spent
obtaining the relevant assurances of a
newly elected president of Ukraine would
be appropriate and largely risk-free.
However, as the Center for Security
Policy understands full well — and as
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney has
reportedly counselled
— these
are anything but normal times in the
destiny of the former Soviet Union.

As Boris Yeltsin has moved out to
consolidate the Russian Republic’s
primacy over Soviet finances — which
culminated over the weekend in the near
shut-down of the USSR’s principal banks
(Gosbank and Vneshekonombank) — shock
waves have rocked the vast residual
military-industrial complex. Yeltsin’s
laudable efforts to wrest the
purse-strings and, therefore, the power
to set and control spending priorities
from Moscow center puts the central
authorities including the KGB and the
armed forces increasingly in a
“use-it-or-lose-it” mode.
Consider the following portentous straws
in the wind:

  • Eduard Shevardnadze — a man who
    may, ironically, be the choice of
    the regrouping central
    authorities to replace the
    shopworn Gorbachev, a man who has
    clearly outlived his usefulness
    to them — is once again warning
    of a coming Coup II;
  • Anatoli Sobchak, the putatively
    democratic Mayor of St.
    Petersburg, has effectively
    disavowed Yeltsin’s market reform
    strategy, saying that the time
    for the Russian president’s
    economic shock therapy has
    “largely been lost;”
  • More astonishing still, Alexsandr
    Rutskoi — Yeltsin’s own vice
    president — defiantly broke with
    the radical Russian economic plan
    and especially with the
    “program for the destruction
    of the military-industrial
    complex.” According to the New
    York Times
    , Rutskoi
    announced that he would resign if
    cuts to the Soviet military were
    implemented;
  • The leaders of the remaining
    instruments of central power —
    Bakatin of the KGB, Primakov of
    the retreaded KGB’s foreign
    intelligence services and
    Shaposhnikov of the Defense
    Ministry — are staunchly
    defending the prerogatives and
    unaltered budgetary priority of
    their respective agencies.

These events and the hapless U.S.
response to Ukrainian independence are,
of course, occurring against the backdrop
of two other significant developments.
First, within the former Soviet Union,
the United States and its Western allies
continue to insist that Moscow center
retain control over the former empire’s
nuclear weapons. Second, in nearby
Yugoslavia, the West has given an
unmistakable “green light” to
prospective Soviet forces of repression
by its sickening tolerance of communist
Serbia’s military aggression against
independence-minded Croatia.

The Center for Security Policy
believes that at this moment the
destiny of the former Soviet Union may
turn on developments in the next hours
and days — not weeks and months
.
Above and beyond the ample grounds for
immediate and unconditional recognition
of Ukraine (not to mention Croatia
and Slovenia!) on the merits
, are
the cumulative effects
of this and other instances of Western
unwillingness to stand decisively with
“qualifying” Soviet republics.

This is no time to play slow
and loose with Ukraine
, and,
thereby, possibly to embolden the Soviet
military — and their glib civilian
allies so much beloved by Western leaders
— to go with Coup II.
Given the Soviets’ well-demonstrated
predilection for high drama during the
Christmas season (witness Afghanistan
1979, Poland 1981), the period of maximum
danger is arguably between now and the
end of the year. Even if Yeltsin and the
other genuine reformers safely transit
this perilous time, the momentous
economic and financial decisions slated
to be taken in January, make the entire
first quarter of 1992 potentially
hazardous to the health of urgent
structural transformation.

In response to this heightened danger,
the Center for Security Policy will
commence herewith a series of papers
entitled Coup II Watch
designed to illuminate relevant
developments and to define appropriate
actions which should be immediately
undertaken by the Yeltsin government, the
leadership of other republics moving
toward genuine democratic and
free market change and by Western nations
to minimize the risk of a successful
second coup.

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