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Crisis in Ukraine Takes Yet Another Turn
Western Diplomats to Russia: "Fool Me Once…"

Has the West just found its spine? At the Munich Security Conference, U.S. and EU leaders exchanged barbs with their Russian counterparts over the Ukrainian issue and have apparently developed a plan for an aid package to lure the Ukrainian government into a Western orbit. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

The prospective aid package…would be the West’s most significant move to date to reopen the geopolitical struggle for Kiev since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych turned his back on an EU economic pact and, instead, signed a deal with Russia for $15 billion in aid. […]

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Western powers were working on a financial plan for Ukraine whose numbers “won’t be small” and won’t hinge on Kiev first agreeing upon a long-term International Monetary Fund agreement, whose financial conditions Kiev has had difficulty complying with. […] However, she said the money was contingent on the new Ukrainian government pursuing economic and political reforms.

Until the exact terms of the aid package are released, there’s no telling how attractive Ukraine will find it. But let’s hope Europe’s foreign policymakers have finally learned their lesson after creating a crisis by failing to fully appreciate the geopolitics of the Ukrainian issue and insisting on bureaucratic pettifoggery.

Yanukovych’s supporters may soon grow weary of Putin’s big-stick approach to their country. (Russia’s $15 billion loan was put on ice when Ukraine’s Prime Minister resigned last week and exports to Russia were deliberately bottlenecked). A juicy Western aid package may just be enough to allow the Ukrainian President to save face even in the event that he has to make more major concessions to the opposition. But no one should expect any Western aid package to be a quick or easy fix for what is increasingly looking like an incipient civil war. An aid package would be just the beginning.

In the end, Russia can’t win a bidding war for Ukraine—if the West is serious. But the West for its part needs to understand that Ukraine can’t reform as quickly or as thoroughly as it would like it to. Ukrainian society is deeply split, and much of its economy remains tied to Russia. A legalistic approach to the next stage in Ukranian-EU relations would be counterproductive. Europe needs to understand that the process of detaching Ukraine from Putin’s embrace and preparing it for eventual membership in the European Union are two quite different things. Pushing too hard for too many concessions—either in the realm of economic management or in governance—will only make life easier for the Russians.


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  • Corlyss

    “Has the West just found its spine?”

    I wouldn’t bet on it. Nothing in the way they deal with the Arabs gives any encouragement. All Putin has to do is growl at them and that will be that. He can cut off their oil and gas. It’s a real pity that the EU puts such emphasis on “feel-good” changes to societies they want to bring in to the sphere. Often they miss the point in a flurry of do-goody demands that really just muddy the waters and scare off or delay nations that should be won over to the West. Of course, if Ukraine is looking at the bill it will be given for their share of the financial bail-outs, that’s another thing . . .

  • Andrew Allison

    This begs the question not just of why the EU wants to throw money at the Ukraine, but where the money would come from. Ukraine is bankrupt, on the verge of civil war and brings nothing but expense to the EU party.

    • Pete

      And of course, the elite want Uncle Sap on the hook for money, right?

      Sure, just print up more billions and throw it around. Wheeee.

    • Corlyss

      It would be a huge ideological triumph for the EU to tease Ukraine away from Russia’s orbit. At least it would have been back in the late 90s. I’m still in favor of making Russia as nervous as possible without actually forcing them to send in troops.

    • El Gringo

      You should ask the Poles and the Baltic states what their interest in Ukraine is.

      • Andrew Allison

        As a buffer between them and an increasingly decrepit, in every sense of the word, Russia? Despite its very considerable problems, the EU appears desperate to add members regardless of their economic and political stability. They did so before with Greece, and we know how that turned out. In 2007 they added Romania and Bulgaria (how’s that working out?), last year Croatia, and the current candidates include Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia — winners all (in the sense that they will be the recipients of vast sums of EU money). Shouldn’t the EU be more concerned with putting it’s house in order before inviting new and hungry tenants?

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