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20.07.2006. A Russian view: Ukraine should not join NATO

More and more, we hear talk about putting Ukraine on a fast track for membership in NATO.

 Let me be clear: Ukraine, like every other nation, has the right to join any alliance it wishes to. But elites sometimes tend to be irrational, or even suicidal.  The pro-NATO faction in Ukraine is clearly composed of people who have neither confidence in nor a vision of Ukrainian statehood; do not want to compete with a robust and often rough Russia, and would like to control their country by putting on the ball and chain of a military and political alliance with Washington.  

Some — not all — Western motives are also clear enough.  

They include a drive to secure the Western trajectory of an unstable and fence-straddling Ukraine and to create another pro-American foothold in Europe. Securing the votes of East European immigrants in an American election year could also come in handy.  

However, most Americans and Europeans simply do not think about the grave repercussions of expanding NATO to Ukraine.  

To begin with, Russia and Ukraine have little formal border to speak of. It exists mostly on paper and in the minds and pockets of shrewd customs officers.

 A NATO-driven Ukraine will naturally push for a real frontier, with barbed wire and all, and that is where real problems will begin.  

Any hill will become strategic; any ravine will acquire some historic significance. Transborder employment and trade, which currently involves millions of people on both sides, will stop; millions of families will be divided, millions will lose jobs. Russia will stop cooperating on many important projects; scores of conflicts will inevitably raise the so-far-dormant ghost of a divided- nation syndrome.

 Another Yugoslavia? Very likely, though in a milder version. Who needs it?  

Some in the pro-NATO faction in Ukraine understand this well enough. Most, though, seem to be too light- minded about the lessons of recent history.  

What they fail to understand is that Russia is not Serbia. Ukraine will suffer many times more damage than Russia, losing a partner that has not always been sweet but has never really played against Kiev.

This, however, is not the main point.   A new artificial «arc of instability» along the Russian-Ukrainian frontier will revive a farcical version of the old bloc rivalry, scrapping the very idea of a union of great nations addressing new challenges — including radical Islamic terrorism.   This new farce will end in lose-lose for many and win-win for those few longing for destabilization and weapons of mass destruction — terrorists and radicals, the very community that civilized and developed nations so vocally claim to be fighting against.   If part of that community makes the misguided step of granting NATO membership to Ukraine, at least one comfort will be that we will finally find out who among them should not be referred to as genuinely civilized and reasonable.   I still hope, however, in common sense and rationalism, the core values of what has come to be known as European or Euro-Atlantic civilization. Sergei Karaganov is the chairman of the nongovernmental Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow.  

// International Herald Tribune