Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has firmly established itself as an actor in international politics. The country has succeeded in developing relations with all of its immediate neighbors, including Russia. Moreover, it has made evident since 1996 that it seeks ultimately to integrate itself fully into Western economic and security structures. As of the late 1990s, a strategic partnership with the United States (US) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is far more attractive to President Leonid Kuchma than one with Moscow. The West treats Kyiv as an equal partner and since the mid-1990s has increased its efforts to stabilize the country’s economy, while Russia continues to regard Kyiv as a junior partner that should accept Moscow’s dominant role in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). However, Ukraine still has a long way to go to meet the criteria laid down for complete integration into NATO and the European Union (EU), for the political and economic reforms carried out by the Ukrainian leadership to date fall short of the targets for real integration into the West.
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