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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine: Looking to West for Allies

As befits its name, Ukraine -- borderland -- has historically searched for allies against its predatory neighbors. The search 300 years ago took it to countries as far apart as Sweden and Turkey.


Today, the hunt for allies has taken it to the United States, according to Western diplomats and Ukrainian officials in Kiev.


Both say that an important sea change is under way, steering Ukraine into the Western camp of nations -- and particularly toward the United States.


Ukraine has been independent since 1991. However, during that time it is has shifted direction, moving initially to the West before its president and government seemed to steer a policy last year which took the 52-million-strong state back into Russia's sphere of influence.


However, in the past month, a significant change has taken place. "Something has definitely changed in the attitude of Ukraine's leaders, especially in the presidential staff and government," said Ukraine's chief Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yury Sergeyev.


"There were three alternatives for the Ukrainians," said a Western diplomat based in Kiev. "Either they could try to make it on their own, or become an ally of the West or swing toward Russia. They clearly don't want an accommodation with Russia and the 'third way' (going it alone) is not an option either."


The change has been forced on Ukraine for several reasons.


There is a realization that economic policies pursued have been so unsuccessful that unless some reform was undertaken, the country's demise would not be a matter of if, but when.


Also, the growing separatist movement in the Crimean peninsula has meant that Ukraine has had to find powerful allies to help it out of a mess. The Crimea's 2.5 million inhabitants, the majority ethnic Russians, voted two weeks ago for a man who said he was determined to seek reintegration with Russia.


The most obvious change in Ukrainian policy appears to be a turning away from dependency on Russia and a willingness both to take U.S. advice and accept potentially unpopular attempts to capitalize Ukraine's economy.


In talks with U.S. officials, plus members of the World Bank and the IMF, in Washington during the past month, the Ukrainians "were saying yes to everything," according to one analyst. If ongoing negotiations with the IMF and the World Bank are successful, Ukraine's government could receive in the spring an aid package in the region of $1.5 billion to $3 billion.


Talks last autumn over the fate of the nuclear arsenal on Ukrainian territory acted as the catalyst for the two sides. The Ukrainians realized they could get more from Russia with U.S. help. That communication opened the way to the Moscow Treaty signed last month, committing Ukraine, once more, to give up its weapons.


A substantial aid package was held out as a promise should Ukraine comply.