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Ukraine’s Endgame

The Biden administration is setting the Ukrainians up for a state of permanent dependency.

(Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

The one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion today, and President Joe Biden’s surprise five hour trip to Kiev on Monday, should be occasion to raise some uncomfortable, indeed, unpopular questions, as to what exactly Ukraine—a beneficiary of, among many other things, over $100 billion in U.S. aid—has been seeking to achieve in the nine years since the Maidan revolution.

From the time Ukraine declared independence on August 24, 1991, until the Maidan coup of February 2014, Ukraine was essentially a binational kleptocracy that used its position as a buffer state, particularly in its role as a transit hub for Russian natural gas to Europe, to the advantage of its kleptocratic elite—a coterie of deeply compromised politicians and former Soviet-era functionaries-turned-oligarchs.


The tension between the Russian East and Galician West came to a head during the Maidan protests when then-president Viktor Yanukovych, a politician from eastern Ukraine, sought to leverage Ukraine’s unique geographic position during the country’s E.U. accession bid—a bid against which Russia, with long and deep economic ties to Ukraine, furiously objected.

Yanukovych squeezed both sides, and in the end, the economic deal offered by the E.U. paled in comparison to the one offered by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. And so, Yanukovych, avaricious, yes, but also wary of upsetting his restive neighbor to the East, went with the deal, worth some $15 billion, offered by the Russians.

In this, Yanukovych was playing an old game. The game had never been played for the benefit the Ukrainian people, but for its rotten elite. Not once in the years between 1991 and now has Ukraine been able to produce a governing elite capable of recognizing that while its geographic position is its Achilles heel, it is also its greatest strength, that they could leverage their geographic position in a way that would advance the common good. But having refused to do so, the population at large, looted to its last hryvnia, sunk deeper and deeper into poverty: By 2015, Iraq, Mongolia, and Albania had higher rates of personal income than Ukraine.

For 30 years, Ukraine’s leaders also squandered a chance to consolidate a viable multiethnic nation state. But instead, beginning in 2014, they opted to pursue a Banderite vision of a mono-ethnic state, a “Ukraine for Ukrainians.”

The results have been catastrophic.


The civil war that erupted in April 2014 has now, thanks to the Russian invasion of a year ago, brought us to the brink of a wider European war. Ukraine’s governing elites, which have time and again rejected peace talks, must understand that Ukraine is now a failed state: Over 12 million of its citizens have fled and its economy has collapsed by at least one-third since the invasion. Yet in the view of President Biden, his advisors, and the near-entirety of the media-political establishment in Washington, this is a war, as the president put it in January, that “is about freedom. Freedom for Ukraine, freedom everywhere. It’s about the kind of world we want to live in and the world we want to leave our children.”

Freedom? Only if the definition of freedom is permanent dependency.

For any chance of survival, Ukraine’s governing elites clearly believe they must hitch their futures to the E.U. and NATO. Yet should they join NATO, they will become yet another military dependency of the United States. Should they become members of the E.U., they will become yet another vassal of Berlin, and will have to place its future at the mercy of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt and an unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels.

As we pass the first anniversary of the Russian invasion and the ninth anniversary of the Maidan coup, those who so eagerly took to the streets to overthrow the democratically-elected Ukrainian president (and those Americans who so lustily cheered them) on the night of February 21, 2014, might take a moment to ask themselves: What exactly did we gain?


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