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The West’s “False Promise” to Ukraine

Simon Shuster reports [1] on the gap between Western rhetoric about the Kiev protests and what the governments are willing to offer:

So it remains to be seen whether Europe’s generosity can match Ukrainian needs. To save the country from defaulting on its debts, the government says it requires more than $20 billion just to pay off its immediate obligations, including at least $2 billion owed to Russia for natural gas supplies. Over the next seven years, Ukraine would need more than $200 billion to fund the reforms the E.U. is demanding [bold mine-DL], according to Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. And there is no way the E.U. would pony up anywhere near that kind of money, especially considering Ukraine’s reputation for corruption. “It’s a black hole,” says Stefan Meister, a Ukraine expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “If you put money into it, half of it ends up in secret accounts somewhere in Switzerland.” [bold mine-DL]

I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which leading European governments throw that much money at a corruption-riddled non-EU state, but I can’t see it. It would be a huge waste of resources on their part, and especially right now that is something that European governments couldn’t sell to their parliaments or their publics. That is especially true of EU member states that are suffering from their own severe economic and fiscal problems. Shuster concludes:

This week, the rotating presidency of the E.U. went from Lithuania, which has championed Ukraine’s integration with Europe, to the debt-wracked nation of Greece, which has little patience for charity cases other than its own. So in the next few months, just as Ukraine edges toward financial ruin, the concern of its western neighbors will likely fade away.

If that’s right, then the recent talk from Western diplomats and politicians of showing solidarity with the protesters will be revealed as so much empty bluster. Shuster writes:

But apart from these gestures, it is far from clear whether the West is willing or able to pull Ukraine out of its ongoing crisis. “It’s a false promise,” says Stephen Szabo, the head of the Transatlantic Academy, a policy research center based in Washington. “It’s going to lead to disillusionment in Ukraine.”

That should make us all wonder what the point of these shows of “support” really was, since there was never much chance that they would translate into real support. It would have been less misleading not to pretend that “the West” was coming to provide meaningful assistance when words appear to be the only thing that Western governments are prepared to offer.

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6 Comments To "The West’s “False Promise” to Ukraine"

#1 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 16, 2013 @ 2:10 am

In the Shuster article, there was this too:

“But could the West have acted any differently? Could they have simply ignored the protests? Since the onset of the European financial crisis, talk of E.U. members pulling out of the bloc have become a lot more common than countries wanting to join. So these demonstrations gave the E.U. a badly needed ego boost. ‘The Europeans have been kind of inward-looking, even somewhat cynical about European membership and European values,’ says William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador in Ukraine. So when they looked over at the crowds in Kiev waving E.U. flags, the Europeans realized that ‘these guys really put a high premium on the things we have,’ Taylor says. ‘And hey, maybe we should take inspiration from these Ukrainians.’

“But taking inspiration and posing for pictures is one thing. Offering membership and financial bailouts is another. So far, no one is inviting Ukraine to join the E.U., which has had enough trouble in the last few years absorbing the troubled economies of Romania and Bulgaria….”

In other words, while the EU has no intention, and never had any intention, of actually helping to solve Ukraine’s economic problems, indeed, the treaty was going to exacerbate them in several ways (costs of meeting EU demands for “reforms,” costs of paying back Russian loans, costs of increase in Russian natural gas prices), European leaders did get an “ego boost” and some sort of vague, Euro “inspiration” out of their encouraging the mobs.

That clearly makes it all worth it!

Some additional points…the article makes it clear that accepting the EU “reforms” would require (just as the last time that the Westernizers took over and instituted their “reforms”), massive hardships for Ukraine’s poorest citizens. Somehow, it is only rarely mentioned in reports about the brave protesters that they want to solve their country’s problems on the backs of their most vulnerable fellow Ukrainians. They don’t quite seem so noble when viewed in that light.

And, finally, can anything be more patronizing, more indicative of US condescending meddling, than the spectacle of Victoria Nuland, the official US State Department representative, attempting to hand out bread to the protestors in Kiev. As is they were street beggars, one and all, dependent on the West even for their basic calories!

#2 Comment By Puller58 On December 16, 2013 @ 7:04 am

Exactly! With Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, the EU already has enough financial disasters to contend with so the Ukraine is a non-starter.

#3 Comment By TomB On December 16, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

What’s depressing is that Europe and the U.S. didn’t take the opportunity to suggest a sit-down with Ukraine and any other interested countries in the Ukraine’s position—*and Russia*—and try to work out some joint, mutual, reciprocal easings of trade barriers between Europe and the U.S. and *everyone* at the table, including once again the Russians.

In other words, offer *Russia* itself such advantages of trade with the Euros especially that it overcomes their advantages of trying to deny such advantages to its former satellites.

And who would deny that it couldn’t *help* Europe to open up new markets for its good?

*That* seems to me to be real strategic thinking, rather than the shorter-than-short-term brain farts that we in fact see being acted upon.

#4 Comment By kievite On December 16, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

From comments to

[2]

Oxford University’s historian Mark Almond gave a pretty realistic assessment of the situation in Ukraine:

There is a template that they are following, which happened in Belgrade in Serbia in 2000 and in Georgia in 2003: storm public buildings, hope to face a demoralized government. And it has to be said that the president of Ukraine zigzagged so much not just over Europe, but over the question of policing and it is not quite clear whether he has the stomach or the intellect to control the situation there.

This seems to be a great tragedy of Ukraine. It would seem that Ukrainians can’t learn from their own experience. After all, we had in 2004-05 the so-called Orange Revolution, and it actually gave way to in-fighting, to terrible corruption, to economic disaster – that’s what actually enabled Yanukovich to win the election and come back to power. We have to be careful with attributing what is going to the majority of people in Ukraine. I suspect the tragedy of the Ukrainians is that the great majority of people are rather passive and certainly rather disillusioned about politics on both sides of the equation.

The risk now is that we have politics of two minorities. It may be that group on the streets, the group with paramilitary nationalist support from the West (including several European countries) may feel they’ve got the strength to stage a kind of coup and this could change the government, it could lead to a very violent situation and it could even question whether Ukraine is viable as a state.

For Ukraine this is part of its economic difficulties. There is very little to attract it to Europe. In fact, what do they produce what European don’t already have. We have a huge agricultural sector, we have a heavy industrial sector and so on. It is really a geo-strategic issue I think to push Russia further and further back into Asia. And this is why Ukraine is important.
Whether it is a good thing for Europe that Ukraine might yet become and economically associated with Europe is another question. If we think about countries like Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and Lithuania, we see massive migrations of their ordinary people into Western Europe, pushing down wages, making social problems that exist in Britain, Germany and France and Spain and Italy.

Ukraine is a big country in an even worse starting point. From an economic point of view, more association with Europe will actually be a stimulus to more economic downturn and more mass migration, rather than a starting point for some reform process, which will improve life, despite the rhetoric about it.

In addition to protesters on the street, there are also some economic interests in Ukraine who think they could benefit from this. I think if we look at the society as a whole and the economy as a whole, it’s an open question. So Yanukovich may be trying to calm the situation by saying this. He may also think that it is to his advantage. After all, he faces the problem that the most politically organized group, the decisive group, may be the pro-European lobby who offer very generous amounts of financial assistance. So he may be hoping to calm them.

In a sense if he doesn’t listen to what they say, he should. Because essentially they are saying that he is already toast – that they protest about Mrs. Tymoshenko being in prison, but they intend to put him and his supporters in prison. This is part of a problem of the heightened tensions in Ukraine. Once you begin to have one group saying that the other side of the equation is traitors, enemies of people, the danger is that those people have nowhere to go. You begin to create the atmosphere of a civil war, rather than of a civil debate.

#5 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 16, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

Almond:

“After all, we had in 2004-05 the so-called Orange Revolution, and it actually gave way to in-fighting, to terrible corruption, to economic disaster – that’s what actually enabled Yanukovich to win the election and come back to power. We have to be careful with attributing what is going to the majority of people in Ukraine. I suspect the tragedy of the Ukrainians is that the great majority of people are rather passive and certainly rather disillusioned about politics on both sides of the equation.”

The point is that the government is elected, the mob is not. Beyond that, the government is the lawful body with authority. The mob is just that, a mob, with no authority, only power. And, while I assume the author intends that “we” should be careful in not assuming the mob represents the majority, I take that for granted. And assume, contrariwise, that the government represents the majority. That may or may not be true in the sense of opinion polls and so forth (although even those are very close), but it is true in the sense that it is an elected government operating under constitutional procedures. So, it “represents” the majority in that more important, legal, non plesbisitory way.

“In a sense if he doesn’t listen to what they say, he should. Because essentially they are saying that he is already toast – that they protest about Mrs. Tymoshenko being in prison, but they intend to put him and his supporters in prison. This is part of a problem of the heightened tensions in Ukraine. Once you begin to have one group saying that the other side of the equation is traitors, enemies of people, the danger is that those people have nowhere to go. You begin to create the atmosphere of a civil war, rather than of a civil debate.”

While I agree that prosecuting and jailing a former head of government, even if guilty, is a bad business, particularly for a fledgling democracy still new at establishing the legitimacy of opposition and orderly transition of power, nevertheless Ms. Tymoshenko was convicted of crimes, in court, and sentenced by a court. And her case has been reviewed by courts on appeal. Moreover, while there has been a great deal of international hullabaloo generated by her prosecution, no one (including Almond, who admits that under her government at least there was great corruption) actually seems to be saying that she was not guilty. Indeed, even the European Court for Human Rights did not contest the substance of the cases against her.

Contrast that with what Yanukovich is facing, which is a lawless mob calling for his blood.

Again, it is the endlessly lauded and romanticized mob which is “storming public buildings” (not to mention destroying public property and blocking access on public thoroughfares), and which is threatening to turn a “civil debate” into a “civil war.” The mob, NOT the government is at fault here. And, I would suggest, things have long since eclipsed the notion of “civil debate.” Factions in the mob, among them neo fascists, are openly calling for revolution, which, no doubt, would be followed by civil war. Instead of protesting the President’s decision in an orderly way, in Parliament, in the press, even in peaceful demonstrations, and organizing to remove him from office legally, as in the next elections (which are only a year or so away), the mob has chosen the course, abated by a mindless Western media and meddlesome Western polticians, of civil unrest and threatening a coup instead.

#6 Comment By Jamie Estevez On December 16, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

Maybe the EU wouldn’t extend itself into the Ukraine, but that doesn’t mean the US/UK and Brussels aren’t trying to overthrow the current quasi Russian friendly regime and install a regime that is Western friendly and more importantly friendly to Western Corporations that probably want to use the Ukraine as a transportation hub for Caspian/Central Asian natural gas and oil to Central and Western Europe thus cutting Russia out of the equation. Of course this would mean a Black Sea pipeline from Georgia to the Ukraine.