The trip to Kiev and Tbilisi made by the new US Vice President Joe Biden last week was the second part of a new US policy towards Eastern Europe, following the meeting in Moscow two weeks ago between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The clearest and most public statements Biden made drove home three points: first, the US rejects the idea of Russian zones of influence in the countries of the former Soviet Union; second, it will stand up for the territorial integrity of the two states; and finally, it will continue to be open in principle to their integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. That means that the new US policy includes the theoretical possibility of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO. With this statement of principles, Obama and Biden continue the line set by the former US administration under George W. Bush.
At the same time, they set a new tone for future policy - a tone which could best be heard in the less public messages Biden delivered in both Kiev and Tbilisi. In these speeches, he avoided setting any concrete timetable or deadline for the two countries' accession to NATO. Biden's real message was a different one from that delivered in his more public statements.
The US will continue to support the sovereignty of both Ukraine and Georgia, but the new start for relations with Moscow has to go together with a new start in relations with Kiev and Tbilisi. President Bush's policy towards Eastern Europe was aimed at keeping Russia in check. That led to massive support for Ukraine and Georgia - a support that was exploited above all by President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia.
President Obama wants to liberate the US from this dependence on Ukraine and Georgia, especially since the presidents of the two countries, Saakashvili and Viktor Jushchenko, are both under domestic political pressure. Furthermore, NATO accession is domestically controversial, at least in Ukraine. In any case, NATO accession only makes sense if both countries are ready for it and the people are prepared to support it.
The premise behind US policy in the countries of the former Soviet Union is no longer the need to contain Russia at any cost. Rather, the US is focusing on the desirability of activating a partnership with Russia for the benefit of its global policy objectives, especially in Afghanistan and Iran. Ukraine and Georgia can continue to rely on US support, but they will be less able to exert pressure on US policy. That was the bitter - but appropriate - message Biden brought to Yushchenko and Saakashvili.
Ingo Mannteufel is the Head of the Russian Service of Deutsche Welle.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Andreas Umland: Is Ukraine Heading for a Post Revolution Disaster?
- Fabian Martin Lieschke: How to Extend NATO's MAP to Georgia and Ukraine
- Expert Survey: A Future with Russia as a Strategic Partner?