It is up to Ukrainians themselves to determine their own future.
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Charles Kupchan is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government.
From 2014 to 2017, Kupchan served as special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs on the staff of the National Security Council (NSC) in the Barack Obama administration. He was also director for European affairs on the NSC during the first Bill Clinton administration. Before joining the Clinton NSC, he worked in the U.S. Department of State on the policy planning staff. Previously, he was an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University.
Kupchan is the author of Kupchan is the author of Isolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself from the World (2020). His previous books include: No One's World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012), How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace (2010), The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century (2002), Power in Transition: The Peaceful Change of International Order (2001), Civic Engagement in the Atlantic Community (1999), Atlantic Security: Contending Visions (1998), Nationalism and Nationalities in the New Europe (1995), The Vulnerability of Empire (1994), The Persian Gulf and the West (1987), and numerous articles on international and strategic affairs.
1. What is your view of Zelensky's presidency so far? Has he moved Ukraine in a positive direction?
Zelensky got off to a good start. He won decisively and had plenty of wind in his political sails, especially after the 2019 parliamentary elections. I am concerned, however, that he has not taken full advantage of his political strength to take the country in the right direction. In particular, he seems to be losing momentum when it comes to the political, economic, and anti-corruption reforms that the country so desperately needs.
2. What is your opinion as to the recent developments regarding the Donbas region? Do you think there is a possibility of a thaw in relations between Ukraine and Russia, or is there a long way to go before a peace Ukraine can be reached?
Unfortunately, I think a thaw in relations between Ukraine and Russia is not yet at hand. Several meetings in the Normandy format have taken place, and the discussions have been constructive and substantive, even if they did not yield substantial progress. The new ceasefire seems to be more effective than the many that came before -- another positive sign. But when it comes to Minsk implementation, Moscow and Kyiv are still far apart on critical issues. In particular, the parties remain at odds over how to sequence Moscow's moves on the security front, and Kyiv's moves on the political front. American engagement in the diplomatic process has been virtually nonexistent since Ukraine's ensnarement in Trump's impeachment and the 2020 election. Hopefully, Washington will be able to play a more constructive role after the November elections.
3. Should Ukraine pursue neutrality status instead of the current state policy of pursuing NATO membership?
My recommendation is that Ukraine should put off for now the debate over its future security status. Ukraine should strive to become a prosperous, democratic, sovereign country fully guided by the rule of law. If Ukraine becomes a fully successful democracy, its security status will follow naturally. Getting on with reform and reclaiming sovereignty comes first. The debate about NATO membership, EU membership, neutrality, other alternatives comes later.
4. How can Ukraine boost its security and strengthen its sovereignty?
Become a success story politically and economically. Supporters of Ukraine can provide assistance and advice. Supporters of Ukraine can engage in diplomacy and put pressure on Russia to end its aggression against Ukraine. But it is up to Ukrainians themselves to determine their own future.