The graph above shows how the positions of the United States, Russia/Soviet Union, and the Ukraine in the United Nations General Assembly have evolved since World War II. I also plotted France as it may be more relevant to contrast the Ukraine’s position with its Western European neighbors than with the United States.
Think of this graph as displaying essentially the same thing as those graphs you may have seen that plot how liberal or conservative senators are based on how they vote in Congress.
(But how come Ukraine is in there during the Cold War? Didn’t they become independent only in 1991? Good question. Stalin demanded that all Soviet republics have an independent vote in the U.N. He managed to get it just for Belarus and Ukraine. As you can see from the chart, the Ukraine’s voting behavior was not exactly independent from that of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Ukraine’s permanent mission to the U.N. still boasts that the: “[d]elegation of Ukraine took an active part in drawing up of the United Nations Charter.”)
So what do we learn from this? Most importantly: the position of the Ukraine vis-a-vis the West has been quite consistent since the end of the Cold War. The Ukraine did move toward the West when Tymoshenko was prime minister from 2007-2010 (although it never converged to European Union positions on global affairs). But the big mover is Russia. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, Russia shifted much more toward the West than the Ukraine did. But, as has been amply documented, it has moved away rather rapidly under Vladimir Putin and leapfrogged the Ukraine in the process.
U.N. General Assembly votes are pretty good at measuring position taking on global issues. They may not always capture the most important regional foreign policy issues that states are dealing with. Still, the graph nicely illustrates how the Ukraine got caught between Russia and the West in geopolitical terms (others have looked at the important geographical dimension).
Additional posts on the recent events in Ukraine at The Monkey Cage:
Additional commentary from the NYU Social Media and Political Participation(SMaPP) lab not at The Monkey Cage: Tweeting the Revolution: Social Media Use and the #Euromaidan Protests