Crisis in Ukraine
By Hannah Thoburn, DC-based Eurasian analyst, and
Katrina V. Negouk, Center for the National Interest.
Reviews and Commentary by William P. Kiehl, Ed. D., Contributing Editor
Writing a predictive article on a rapidly evolving political crisis is very much like painting a moving railway train. One may get some color on the speeding locomotive but is unlikely to get anything like complete coverage. That is somewhat the situation this writer faces in commenting on just two of the many Internet articles that have appeared in recent weeks in response to the crisis in Ukraine following the Ukrainian Parliament’s November 28, 2013 rejection of a trade relationship agreement with the European Union in favor of a closer bond with the Russian Federation. The two articles listed are among a very few presenting a more nuanced and thus accurate picture of the rapidly escalating crisis.
Of course, as we have seen, since that dramatic November 28 decision, many thousands of protestors have made their views known in favor of a closer relationship with the EU and the West in general. The resulting demonstrations, protests, confrontations, violent reactions by the government, and counter reactions by the Ukrainian people have precipitated a cascading political crisis that has the potential to draw Russia and the West into very real and potentially a very dangerous conflict for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Reviewing most of the articles written about the Ukrainian Crisis of 2013-14 in U.S. journals and media, one would be mislead into believing that the only cause of the conflict as well as its ultimate solution is one of human rights and individual liberty. There is a strong case to be made and a plausible backdrop for the human rights rationale. Yet what is so often overlooked is the powerful economic basis for the Ukrainian government’s rejection of the EU agreement in the first place, the Russian Federation’s “rescue” with a $15 billion loan, the East-West economic and cultural divide within Ukraine itself, and finally, the late-to-the-party United States’ effort to organize a shoring up of the Ukrainian economy even at the point of declaring “f___ the EU” if that organization cannot find the means to provide Ukraine with an economic alternative to dependence on the Russian Federation.
Yes, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign mantra of two decades ago, “it’s the economy, stupid.” A closer relationship with the EU is meaningless if Ukraine does not have the economic viability to engage with the West. Ukraine is heavily dependent on the Russian Federation for energy and is already massively in debt to its large neighbor to the East. The EU would like a relationship with Ukraine to be sure but has neither the will nor the ready resources to set Ukraine on a positive economic trajectory. The weak and so far ineffectual Ukrainian government has been defeated on the streets and in the court of public opinion by the pro-Western demonstrators who rightly believe that economic dependence will lead to domination by an authoritarian Russia. The protestors have already gained a number of important concessions including a roll back of repressive laws, the resignation of Ukraine’s prime minister and amnesty for those arrested. How much more can the protestors achieve? That is difficult to foresee. The Kiev authorities can see no way out of a closer economic relationship with its energy supplier and loan provider—the Russian Federation—and is marking time and waiting for a miracle to happen.