Derek Hom

University of Washington, Jackson School of International Studies

The Kharkiv Agreement and Black Sea Security

On April 21, 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to extend the lease of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) until 2042. Known as the “Kharkiv Agreement,” the accord saw Ukraine extend the lease for Russia’s use of Sevastopol as a naval base for an additional 25 years in exchange for Russia’s concession on a discount on Ukrainian imports of Russian gas for a ten-year period. The Kharkiv Agreement’s significance is that it reinforces Russia’s naval presence in the Black Sea that has implications not only for Russian-Ukrainian relations, but also for the future of Black Sea Security until 2050.

This paper will focus on the Kharkiv Agreement’s ramifications on Black Sea Security. This approach will be a hybrid of political science theoretical analysis and policy recommendations to Ukraine on why the deal – surprisingly – is beneficial. This paper will explain how Black Sea Security will be shaped for the next 25 years within the context of the Kharkiv Agreement and how this relationship is a unique method that post-Soviet states maintain stable bilateral relations with Russia. Ultimately, Ukraine is the lynchpin for Black Sea Security and Russia’s presence in the region. Despite the Georgian-Russian conflict in August 2008 – and the BSF’s involvement – the dynamics of a relationship that maintained peace in the Black Sea since 1991 will continue with a solidified Russian presence in Sevastopol.

Beginning with the historical background of Russian-Ukrainian relations regarding the BSF, this paper will place the Kharkiv Agreement within a political science framework to provide more clarity on how and why states interact with a military occupation on one of the states’ territory. First, contravening conventional international relations theories – like Neorealism and Constructivism – this paper will apply Alexander Cooley’s mixed international economic theory using “exchange sovereignty” and “property rights” (“control rights” and “use rights”) to emphasize Ukraine and Russia’s relationship. Then, Alexander Cooley’s and Hendrik Spruyt’s framework of complete and incomplete contracting will be applied to the Kharkiv Agreement.

Then the technical details of the Kharkiv Agreement will be examined. A brief overview of the status of the BSF after the 1997 Agreement will show how both Ukraine and Russia were ill-prepared in establishing a post-2017 withdrawal. Additionally, this paper will address Ukraine’s domestic political situation and if the domestic politics or structural/international factors dictate Ukraine’s foreign policy. The key aspect for the Kharkiv Agreement’s conception and passage is President Yanukovych’s victory in the 2010 Ukrainian presidential elections.

To further understand the Kharkiv Agreement, a discourse analysis (qualitative analysis) of Ukrainian and Russian newspaper articles will be implemented. This paper seeks to answer one central question: Who benefitted the most from the Kharkiv Agreement? Through primary resources, this paper’s goal is to obtain both sides’ perception of the deal. Ukrainian sources show how oppositionists view the accord as a violation of the Ukrainian Constitution (Article 17) while also betraying Ukraine’s symbolic importance of borders, sovereignty, national identity, regionalism, and separatism.

The conclusion will offer a policy assessment for Ukraine stating that the BSF should stay in Ukraine indefinitely, contrary to Western analysts’ positions. The non-violent relationship between Russia and Ukraine based on “exchange sovereignty” and “incomplete contracting” prevents violence from occurring between Ukraine and Russia. After analyzing western views, this paper will assert that Ukraine and western institutions must accept that former Soviet states can exist independently and peacefully with a foreign military – Russia’s – on its territory. Instead, recommendations will be offered in how the risk of conflict can be minimized between Ukraine and Russia, and Russia and the countries of the Black Sea region.

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