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.UPDATED