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Ukraine and “Obvious” Choices

Alex Berezow faults Chris Hayes for being uncertain about what should be done in Ukraine:

But, the choice is smack-you-in-the-face obvious: The U.S. and EU should (and likely will) try to pull Ukraine into the EU’s orbit, paving a pathway for its entry into the European Union. Feckless though it may be, the EU offers Ukraine a safer future than its current status of dependence on Russia’s ultimately self-serving largesse.

The choice is only this obvious if you assume that the U.S. and EU are willing to bear the costs that will come from bringing Ukraine closer to the EU, and if you assume that they are ready and willing to counter whatever actions Russia takes in response to the attempt. Thus far, we have seen little evidence that Western governments are prepared to dedicate the amount of money, time, and attention that will be required to do this, and the reason for that is quite clear: most governments in the West don’t believe they have enough at stake here to make it worth the cost, and they are correct. Berezow refers to “paving a pathway for its entry into” the EU, but he must know that this pathway is going be extremely long, difficult, and may never lead to full membership. The EU might eventually offer Ukraine a safer future, but it is more likely that Ukraine will be stuck in the same limbo between the EU and Russia for decades to come.

Phil Levy identifies several reasons why Western governments may be reluctant to provide short-term financing. Here’s one:

Is this a loan or a gift? A loan would certainly be less costly and more traditional, but the distinction has everything to do with the probability of repayment. The International Monetary Fund has had trouble before with getting Ukraine to pay money back. Usually loans of this magnitude come with conditions that are meant to increase the probability of repayment. Even in normal circumstances, recipient countries can find these conditions unpopular and onerous (e.g., dramatically raising the price of gas for heating and cooking). What are the odds that the present leadership could enforce such a plan? [bold mine-DL]

If one of the first things that a new Ukrainian government does is to impose austerity measures in order to qualify for Western aid, not only will that government’s support quickly collapse, but much of the enthusiasm for a closer relationship with the EU will probably evaporate as well. Under those circumstances, is it obviously better to push Ukraine to undergo economically painful and politically divisive reforms for the sake of pulling Ukraine slightly in the direction of the EU? More to the point, does it make sense for Western governments to do this when there is understandably not much interest in providing Ukraine with the financing it will need in the short term?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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