Ulrich Speck makes a number of dubious recommendations for what the U.S. and EU should do in Ukraine. This struck me as the most unrealistic:
Now the European Union needs to come back with a better offer — not just association, but membership.
Presumably the EU hasn’t considered Ukraine for membership because it isn’t remotely ready for it. The costs of implementing the changes required by the association agreement were already quite high, and preparing for full membership would be even costlier. As it is, Ukraine needs tens of billions of dollars simply to avoid default. On the EU side, there is good reason not to bring in another poor country, and there will be just as much resistance among European governments to making Ukraine a member as there has been to letting in Turkey. There will also be justifiable skepticism in Europe that EU members should be willing to provide substantial financial support to a non-member state when countries that have been members for decades are expected to undergo extremely painful austerity measures at the same time. The EU shouldn’t offer full membership to states that aren’t prepared for it, as the unfortunate example of Bulgaria suggests. It would also take many years before all the necessary changes could be made, and the economic pain that will be experienced in the meantime could very easily disillusion and alienate the public to such an extent that it produces a fierce backlash against all things associated with the EU.
Since the protesters successfully drove Yanukovych from power by taking to the streets and remaining there for months, future governments will face the very real prospect of being unseated by street demonstrations whenever they do anything controversial or extremely unpopular. Having established the precedent that elected leaders can be forced out in this way, what future leader is going to risk provoking large-scale protests by pushing through the sort of economic reforms that would be required to measure up to EU standards? Speck believes that offering Ukraine EU membership would “embolden a new leadership in Kiev and give them enough authority to push through painful but necessary economic and government reforms,” but it seems likely that trying to push through these measures would trigger another round of destabilizing protests and further contribute to the country’s political paralysis. This is just the sort of “help” that Ukraine–or any other country in its position–could do without.
The U.S., EU, and Russia have a common interest in preventing a Ukrainian default, but beyond that it is not obvious that Western governments “must” do anything there.