US vice-president Joe Biden used his visit to the two countries to underline that they could one day become members of NATO, but, says Ingo Mannteufel, his real message was a different one.
The visit by the new US vice-president Joe Biden to Kiev and Tbilisi is the second part of a new US policy towards Eastern Europe, following the meeting two weeks ago in Moscow between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Obama proclaimed a new start in Russian-American relations, and it was the vice-president's job to initiate a new policy towards the governments of Ukraine and Georgia. In his baggage were several public announcements, and a few indirect hints.
Not a Russian zone of influence
The clearest and most public statements which Biden made were that the US rejects the idea of Russian zones of influence in the countries of the former Soviet Union, that it will stand up for the territorial integrity of the two states, and will continue to be open in principle for 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 which Biden was delivering in both Kiev and Tbilisi, in that he avoided naming any concrete timetable or deadline for the two countries' accession to NATO.
A new start for relations with Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi
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 which 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, Viktor Jushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili, are both under domestic political pressure and because NATO accession is controversial, that is at least in Ukraine. NATO accession only makes sense anyway 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 with the help of Ukraine and Georgia, but the desirability of activating a partnership with Russia for the benefit of the US's global policy objectives - especially in Afghanistan and Iran. Ukraine and Georgia can continue to rely on US support, but they will be able to exercise less pressure on US policy. That was the bitter - but appropriate - message which Biden brought to Yushchenko and Saakashvili.
Ingo Mannteufel, head of the Russian service of Deutsche Welle/mll
Editor: Neil King