Ukraine’s Presidential Candidates on Foreign and National Security Policy:
Where They Stand on NATO- and EU-Entry

November 26, 2009

Eighteen candidates will contest Ukraine’s fifth presidential election on January 17, 2010. They can be divided into three groups according to their level of public support. The leading group consists of the two leading contenders: Viktor Yanukovich, head of the opposition Party of Regions, former Prime Minister and losing presidential candidate in 2004; and Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s current prime minister, leader of the Fatherland Party, and head of the eponymous parliamentary bloc. Yanukovich has been running ahead of Tymoshenko in most polls by as much as ten percent. As none of the candidates is likely to obtain as much as 50% of the vote, the election will almost certainly be decided in a run-off between the two top vote-getters in the first round. It would appear virtually certain that Yanukovich and Tymoshenko will face each other in the run-off scheduled for February 7.

The second-tier candidates vying for the third and fourth positions in round one include incumbent President Viktor Yushschenko and honorary chairman of Our Ukraine; Arseniy Yatseniuk, former foreign minister and former parliamentary speaker; Sergei Tigipko, former National Bank chairman and successful banker and businessman; Volodymyr Lytvyn, current parliamentary speaker and head of the People’s Party, and Piotr Symonenko, head of the Ukrainian Communist party. Each of these candidates is garnering between three and eight percent support in most polls.

A third group consists of single issue and/or or spoiler candidates such as former Defense Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko; the radical national-populist and leader of the Freedom Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok; leader of the Free Democrats Mikhail Brodsky; and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, among others. Each enjoys the support of one percent of the population, or less.

This briefing paper will only analyze the foreign policy platforms of the seven presidential candidates in the two top groupings.

No Support for NATO

None of the party platforms of any of the 18 candidates mentions NATO in any context whatsoever. Not only does none of the candidates call for membership, none even calls for cooperation with NATO within the Partnership for Peace Program (PfP). This is something of a surprise as Ukraine has been the most active CIS participant in Partnership for Peace since joining in January 1994.

The failure of any Ukrainian politicians, especially the ones with the best chance of winning, to mention NATO—much stake out a clear position on membership—repeats what happened during the last presidential election in 2004 when none of the candidates said a word about their intentions regarding entry in the Atlantic Alliance. This demonstrates that Ukrainian political parties and their leaders have still not learned, five years after the Orange Revolution, that democratic elections are occasions for leveling with the people and seeking a mandate for action upon victory. It is a question of transparency and accountability, without which democracy cannot succeed. The failure to make any mention of NATO membership is especially surprising on the part of those political parties known to be keenest on leading Ukrainian into the Alliance.

The party platforms of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine refrained from any mention of NATO in the presidential election in 2004 and the legislative elections in 2002, 2006 and 2007. Yushchenko’s 2010 party platform follows this same, essentially deceitful, pattern. The section of the platform entitled “Ukraine Will Be Strong” is entirely mum on foreign policy, including such vital issues as Ukraine’s relations with NATO and the European Union. When the platform refers to NATO at all, it does so indirectly. This occurs in the section “Ukraine Will Be Free,” in which point 7 states: “Together with European neighbors we will strengthen the Euro-Atlantic system of collective security.” Running for re-election in 1999, Leonid Kuchma made similar, amorphous statements.

Support for the EU

Of the seven candidates in the first and second tiers, three support EU membership (Tigipko, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko), two are opposed (Symonenko and Yatseniuk) and two are ambivalent (Lytvyn, Yanukovich).

Of these seven candidates, only Tymoshenko calls for the gradual reform of the Ukrainian economy so as to meet EU membership criteria, invoking the reformist policies of such states as Bulgaria and Romania. In point 6 (in a list of 9 points on Ukraine’s place in the world), the Yushchenko party platform endorses Ukrainian entry in the European Union and calls for a visa-free regime with the EU. And yet Yushchenko has nothing to say about the more important Free Trade Zone between Ukraine and the EU.

Neutral Status

The most popular foreign policy idea to have surfaced in the current campaign is that of neutrality, or non-bloc status. Front-runner Yanukovich, as well as Tigipko, Lytvyn and Yatseniuk, support this position. Yanukovich, Tigipko and Lytvyn are heirs to the “multi-vector” foreign policy pursued by President Kuchma from 1994 to 2004. They led the Party of Regions, Labor (Trudova) and Agrarian parties, respectively, that supported Kuchma in Parliament during his second term in office.

As such, their current foreign policy views represent a retreat from the ones they held in the Kuchma era and are no less duplicitous than those held by Yushchenko. It was during Kuchma’s second term of office that, in 2002, Ukraine first declared its intention to seek NATO membership, passed a law, in 2003, formalizing Ukraine’s desire to obtain it, and, in 2004, first sought a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the NATO summit of that year. Meanwhile, in 2003, Ukraine sent the largest military contingent of any non-NATO country (and the third largest overall) to Iraq in support of the United States’ war effort.

Lytvyn, Tigipko, and Yanukovich all supported Kuchma while serving in ranking governmental and/or parliamentary positions and did not oppose Ukraine’s initial steps towards NATO membership or it participation in the Iraq War. Ironically, it was President Kuchma and his then-prime minister—Viktor Yanukovich—who deployed troops to Iraq (in 2003), and President Yushchenko who brought them home (in 2005), one of the few instances of the president fulfilling a promise made during the 2004 presidential campaign.

In Search of a Third Way in Foreign Policy

Disillusioned center-right candidates, such as Yatseniuk (and, among the third tier candidates, Grytsenko, Tyahnybok) increasingly seek a “third-way” in foreign policy. This boils down to an effort to be both anti-Western and anti-Russian, simultaneously. But, as Yatseniuk’s poorly run campaign has shown, this approach only serves to confuse voters.

Yatseniuk, launched his election campaign (too early) in the summer of 2009. It has since stagnated. His position has shifted from the openly pro-Western views he held as foreign minister and parliamentary speaker in 2007-2008 to the nationalist “third-way” he now embraces.

When Yatseniuk was elected to parliament in September 2007, he was a member of Yushchenko’s pro-Western parliamentary bloc called Our Ukraine/People’s Self Defense (NUNS), which was and remains the strongest supporter in parliament of Ukraine’s membership of NATO and the European Union. In January 2008, Yatseniuk, then serving as parliamentary speaker, together with President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko, signed a joint letter to NATO requesting a Membership Action Plan (MAP) as the first step towards membership at NATO’s summit in April 2008 in Bucharest. Yatseniuk has since withdrawn his signature.

The third-way in foreign policy confuses voters because they cannot tell the difference between this approach and the “multi-vector” foreign policy pursued by President Kuchma. The 2010 platforms of both Yanukovich and Symonenko call for full Ukrainian membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Single Economic Space, a position remarkably similar to Yatseniuk’s proposal for a new Eastern European Union. Yatseniuk’s platform calls this initiative a new “Kievan Rus,” which it defines as a union of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan with Kyiv as its capital. But, this Eastern European Union resembles Kuchma’s CIS Single Economic Space in its call for joint programs between the prospective member states in the fields of energy, transportation and communications, industrial production and exports, science and technology, and the military affairs.

Yatseniuk’s proposals go further than those supported by Kuchma who cautiously signed on to the CIS Single Economic Space in 2002-2003, but balked at taking Ukraine beyond stage one, a free trade zone, seeing stages two and three—Customs and Monetary unions—as a threat to Ukrainian sovereignty. Kuchma also appreciated that countries cannot be in two customs unions at the same time; that is in both the EU free trade zone and CIS Single Economic Space customs union.

This contradiction has been ignored by Yatseniuk who has taken to heart the view that “the EU does not want us” and that therefore Ukraine needs to build a union with other disillusioned Europeans and Central Asians; that is, a club for members of the EU’s Eastern Partnership launched in May 2008. It would seem most unlikely, however, that Russia would ever join a union not headquartered in Moscow, even if it is called Kievan Rus.


Judging by their 2010 party platforms, the Presidential candidates have distinctly different foreign policy positions. As such, they fall into three different policy groupings that have nothing to do with their prospects for winning the election. The first grouping supports a pro-European foreign policy of which Tymoshenko is the leading exponent. She espouses membership in and a moral/ideological orientation towards Europe, combined with a pragmatic relationship with Russia. Yushchenko is, if anything, even more staunchly in favor of integration with the West than Tymoshenko, but is hampered by his record of duplicity on NATO membership—feigning disinterest during the 2004 presidential contest, then becoming a staunch advocate once in office. Moreover, the US and Europe are showing clear evidence of Yushchenko-fatigue. The second grouping, which includes former Kuchma allies Lytvyn, Tigipko and Yanukovich, back a return to a multi-vector foreign policy, and a neutral status for Ukraine outside of political blocs. Finally, the third grouping, represented by Yatseniuk, espouses a nationalist “third-way,” whereby Kyiv would cast its lot neither with Moscow nor the West.