The Mighty Tymoshenko

yuliatymoshenko041009.jpgFederico Fubini, an Italian journalist at Corriere della Serra, has published an interesting interview with the Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko in Foreign Policy in which it is possible to see just how thin the line is becoming for Ukraine – seeking balance between Russia’s wrath and Europe’s cold shoulder.  One can’t help but wince when looking at the geopolitical situation for Ukraine, which in a moment of having its very existence questioned by a powerful former occupier can’t find a reliable ally in Europe.  Still, Tymoshenko remains fiery despite attempting to strike greater balance.

“All this crossfire shows what I really stand for is our own national interest,” she says. Then she is quick to add: “The Russians worry that we are trying to privatize our pipelines by stealth, but that’s not the case and would be illegal. We have to reassure them on that.”

Tymoshenko returns frequently to the challenges presented by Ukraine’s position between Russia and the European Union. “There is no doubt we want to join the EU. At least 60 percent of our public opinion favors this option, and we are now closer to this goal than, say, one year ago. This policy must be the essence of all our actions,” she says. But, she warns, it cannot succeed by confronting Moscow or ignoring its concerns.

This is balance-of-power politics of the post-Soviet, post-Georgia-warvariety. To her critics, it looks a bit like squaring the circle. Toher, it’s simply a matter of recognizing reality. “I try to defend ourinterests so that we can find a balance in our relations both with theEU and Russia,” Tymoshenko explains, meaning she wants her country toget into the EU without giving the impression of antagonizing Russia.

Could the same strategy apply to Ukraine’s relations with NATO? Herethe prime minister sighs for a split second: “There, it’s morecomplex.” It’s not so much that she is frightened by Georgia’sexperience, something she never mentions though it’s clearly on hermind. While recognizing it would be “uncomfortable” for Ukraine toremain “in a void, outside all existing security systems,” she stillsees several “political barriers” between Kiev and NATO.

Although famous for her sharp tongue, Tymoshenko is treading carefullythese days. The first problem she sees is that barely 25 percent ofUkrainians favor joining NATO. “Even the president accepts we need tohold a referendum on this,” she acknowledges.

The second “problem” is rather a carefully managed swipe at thoseEuropeans cozying up a bit too much to Russia — especially Germany andItaly, one suspects. In Tymoshenko’s own words, “There is no unanimityin the EU on Ukraine’s joining NATO as we have not yet witnessed afavorable attitude in every country.”

As Tymoshenko goes on, one cannot help but notice her trying to containher anger when she feels misunderstood in her actions and purpose. Shelaughs softly at my attempts at humor, but when she finds my questionsmisjudge her intentions, she bursts out: “It’s not fair to say that!”