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Ukrainian Unrest
The Putin-Yanukovych Anti-Western Pact

Victor Yanukovych has presented his nation as a gift to Vladimir Putin, but the Ukrainian people have gathered in Kiev’s Independence Square to resist this move. Violence is still possible, and more is at stake than just the political future of one country.

Published on: December 26, 2013
Lilia Shevtsova, an AI editorial board member, is senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
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  • qet

    This really is too much. There is no such entity as “The West.” There is a sickly creature called the EU that is not up to the task of confronting old-school despots but France and Germany are precluded from acting individually. And do the Ukrainians, even the Westward-hoping ones, really want to see Germany “stand up” to Russia (again) anyway? Easy to say, but a few months into such a standing-up and all the old hatreds would be dredged up. That leaves the USA, who has been standing up to so many despots for so long that the people here have wearied of all the international complaining and accusing that generates, not to mention the cost. Perhaps in 2016 we will elect an Administration that is willing to actively confront Russia, but don’t count on it. And what does this statement even mean: “without a single developed democracy managing to stand up in opposition to this state of affairs”? The metaphor of “standing up” is particularly unhelpful. Maybe the people who need to do the standing-up are the Ukrainians themselves. Looking Westward has been extremely fraught for Russians/Slavs over the centuries. From what I understand, a great many simply reject the West and do not desire to be Westerners. The choice for Ukrainians is not the simple, rational one of choosing a supplier for your business. Deep-seated feelings and identities are at stake, and those tend to generate a lot of passion and violence. “The West” cannot “stand up” to such a thing.
    I read Via Meadia daily and have for some time. It brings up crisis after crisis, civil war after civil war, chess move after chess move, in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and in every one the refrain is exactly the same: “the US/the West must do something.” There is not one crisis or war where Via Meadia says: don’t worry about this one, this one we can safely ignore or deprioritize. Every village raid by a Boko Haram somewhere is potentially the first domino. I greatly appreciate Via Meadia’s and AI’s commitment to informing me of global events; I am as insulated from the greater world as any American. But at some point it is no longer enough to just throw up a never-ending series of alarmist articles and blog posts prophesying doom as a result of a dithering US/Western response to civil unrest or violence somewhere. I would love to read more from VIA Meadia and AI actually laying out foreign policy in detail instead of just saying that hopefully someone in the Administration is doing it.

    • hmrhonda

      The reason there is no “the West” is not just because Europe is impotent but Obama has ED too.
      He is an ignorant self centered fool. He is not a leader of “the West” as our presidents have been in the past, nor leader of the “free World”.
      You are right, there is no group of countries who have the same ideology of liberty and free markets that made them “the Free World” and “the West”. I hope this changed soon (2016).

      • Kavanna

        There’s been a “West” in the recent past. But the end of the Cold War and significant differences of view over the Middle East and Russia have frayed it. Then the economic crisis laid bare the emptiness of the EU.

        Here, the problem is the Empty Suit in the White House. Policy isn’t policy any more, just a series of unforced blunders by Obama’s Chicago crew. Their “qualifications” include incompetence, ignorance, and thuggishness in equal measure. As long as the Empty Suit remains, so the situation will remain.

  • free_agent

    You write, “Unfortunately, the Ukrainian opposition did little in the way of
    attempting to understand these people and alleviating their fears.”

    And that is pretty much the beginning and the end of things. The opposition has the right general idea, but hasn’t marshalled the political skill needed to bring about the desired improvements.

    • hmrhonda

      The entire previous generation spent 70 years under the Soviets. Where are these leaders supposed to learn political skill? The answer of course is in “the West” but many have only been visitors. We (the”West”) need to send more diplomats and envoys and professors (not the libs from our leftist universities) to teach them some important skills in political science. “We” can be faulted for this generations “lack of political skills”. They thirst for political skills.

      • free_agent

        Actually, the best way to learn political skills is through practicing politics. In this case, since a central problem is lack of communication with the Russian-favoring half of the Ukraine population, the solution is going to involve talking to a lot of Russian-favoring Ukrainians and learning their point of view, and the reasons they favor Russia and Putin, and why they support Yanukovych. Once that is understood, the program of changes that the demonstrators are supporting can be improved so that it is supported by many more Ukranians (because it satisfies the needs of many more Ukranians).

        Another approach is for people who demonstrate to take up careers in politics, government bureaucrats, campaign workers for politicians running for office, etc. These sorts of jobs educate one about the process which changes political desires into achievable political actions. The disadvantage of a mass demonstration is that it only articulates political desires, but does not help determine what means can be used to achieve those ends.

  • Julie Leighton

    The Russian December 2013 loan to Ukraine is proof of the Kremlin’s intention to establish a new client state paradigm. The previously amorphous post-Soviet space will now be defined by a series of high-risk financial loans issued in exchange for other new independent states’ political fealty to the Kremlin.

    Such loans have been already issued to other states- Belarus and Armenia. This practice could have disastrous economic implications for the region. Besides, Russia will be affected too. While analysts debate whether Russia can technically afford the 15 billion, and the negative domestic implications of such a loan, the real problem is that the loan itself is in clear violation of the National Wealth Fund’s foreign investment regulations, and that Putin seems to have unilaterally made the decision to provide the funds.

    Both of these points are concerning. The National Wealth Fund legislation states that up to 60 percent of the total Fund can be invested in countries with a high Standard and Poor rating. The S&P had rated Ukraine as a “B-” in all arenas this past November; a low rating which reflects the country’s probable inability to repay the loan on time. The Russian loan was equivalent to one third of the Ukrainian budget, and needs to be repaid with five percent interest. Ukrainian default seems very likely.

    Why, then, would this loan be approved by the National Wealth Fund’s appropriation committee? There is speculation that it was not, and that the Kremlin was unilaterally responsible for the Ukrainian bailout. Rather than risk that Ukraine would sign an Association Agreement, the Russian government opted to prop up the Yanukovych contingency in exchange for political fealty. There is no longer any question of Ukraine moving closer to the Brussels axis, this loan has ensured that it is firmly entrenched with the Moscow camp.

    Other former Soviet countries are following the Ukrainian pattern. Belarus, for example, put in it’s financial demands to Moscow last week. The Russian treasury has effectively become a cash machine for the surrounding anti-EU countries.

    This is short sighted. Putin’s bank rolling is not going to recreate the Soviet Union. These states are no longer united by ideology, infrastructure, or economic plans. It is also unlikely, with the possible exception of Ukraine, that the leader’s of these former Soviet entities were ever considering deviating from the Moscow path. Yet Putin has now put an unmarked price tag on their loyalty. The problem with establishing this kind of client state paradigm is that there can always be a higher outside bidder. Putin is constructing a cardboard empire.

  • Bretzky1

    In the grand scheme of things, a Putin-Yanukovych anti-Western pact is of little importance to the US, and even to the EU. Ukraine is a poor, politically dysfunctional country with little to no geostrategic significance. Even if Russia were to reabsorb Ukraine, lock, stock, and barrel, it would add virtually nothing to Russia’s power globally, or even regionally. Yes, things might be worse for the Ukrainian people, but they aren’t exactly living high off the hog at the moment anyway. And given Russia’s overwhelming paranoia when it comes to the West, it probably would be a bad idea for the EU to move Ukraine closer to the West, at least in the near- to medium-term future.

  • Mark

    Lilia Shevtsova’s hat is on too tight. She never leaves off caterwauling about Putin, and everything is his fault. Angela Merkel thundered that it was the business of nations to determine their own orientation, and Stephan Fule chimed in that interference in the decision-making process of nations was unacceptable. Fine; Ukraine has chosen – a legitimate choice made by its democratically-elected head of state. Squalling that it was not the decision you wanted to see is unacceptable if you are not Ukrainian, because it is none of your business. I’m looking at you, Shevtsova, and I have it on the very best authority from Angela Merkel. If you are Ukrainian and you don’t like it, the way the process works is you vote the leader who made it out in the next election. Screaming mobs in the public square – supported by western politicians, diplomats and museum exhibits (John McCain) – do not make good replacement governments, but the west is so desperate to ensure Putin does not win this one that it will still take Ukraine even if it has to ruin it first. Ukraine is broke, the EU is broke, and Putin offered Ukraine a big loan and a cut in their gas rates. How hard a decision was that? If the EU didn’t like it, it could have offered more. Did I mention the EU is broke? So now the EU is blubbering that Putin’s is just a short-term fix and will be bad news for Ukraine down the road, to cover up its fury at being rejected. But it demanded in its association manifesto that Yanukovych release his political rival from jail although she is a criminal whose conviction was upheld by the ECHR and the American law firm that audited the decision at the Ukrainian government’s request, devalue the national currency and raise gas rates for consumers. It did not back away from any of those ultimatums until the deal started to look shaky, and then it was too late. Putin was a villain when he threatened to take trade action to protect Russian markets – an entirely legitimate concern – but when he offered Ukraine a generous purchase of its debt plus a reduction in its energy costs, well, he was a villain then, too.

    Why don’t you just say what you mean, Lilia? Russia is not allowed to win regardless what it does, and no matter what a ham-fisted blundering mess the west makes of its deal-making, it must always prevail because it is good and pure of heart. Say yes, and we’ll give everyone a pony. Pathetic.

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