When Ukraine signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994, one of Ukraine’s conditions was that fellow signatories Russia and the United States would guarantee its territorial integrity. Twenty years later, Russia has annexed Crimea and Kyiv is fighting a Russian-backed separatist insurrection in its eastern region — bordering Russia. What happened over the past two decades?
Ever since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the relationship between Kiev and Washington has wavered up-and-down. Critically, the relationship cannot be viewed in isolation from Russian policy in the region.
After a high in the late 1990s following the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a low in relations between Washington and Ukraine was reached with President Leonid Kuchma over his worsening human rights record. That culminated with the murder in shadowy circumstances of journalist Georgiy Gongadze (in 2000); bilateral relations froze.
The next major landmark in relations between Washington and Kyiv came in 2004, with the Orange Revolution, which US President George W Bush saw as an opportunity to renew efforts to roll back Russian influence in Ukraine. The Bush administration, at the time, reportedly provided million of dollars to fund Ukrainian NGOs, including those critical of the government.
But efforts by the Bush administration in 2008 to get Ukraine into NATO failed – largely due to opposition by Germany and France, who didn’t want to antagonise Russia.
The West’s appeasement policy towards Moscow was strengthened under President Barack Obama, who early in his first term announced he was hitting the “reset” button in US policy towards Russia, setting out to reverse what he called a “dangerous drift in an important bilateral relationship”. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have had another kind of “reset” in mind: redrawing Europe’s maps.