Western Diplomats Are Going to Disappoint Ukraine’s Protesters

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Andrew Kravchenko / Reuters

U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland distributes bread to protesters at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on Dec. 11, 2013

The hand of U.S. diplomacy swept down over Ukraine this week with an odd bit of American largesse — a plastic bag of bread. Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, bore the bag on Wednesday into the crowd of protesters camped out in the middle of the capital, Kiev. As her circle of bodyguards parted, Nuland held it out to an elderly demonstrator in a big blue parka. “Good to see you!” the diplomat chirped. “We’re here from America. Would you like some bread?” Smiling politely, the woman demurred, took a step backward and waved the generosity away.

It was not exactly the kind of help Ukraine needs right now. Over the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have swarmed the streets of Kiev, demanding that their government begin integrating with the West. What sparked their protests was the state’s decision last month to turn instead toward Russia, backing away from a trade and cooperation deal with the E.U. Since then, top Western diplomats have come out to show their support for the demonstrators. First came German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who toured the epicenter of the protests with Ukraine’s opposition leaders, including the heavyweight-boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. Then came Catherine Ashton, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, and finally Nuland arrived with her loaves of soft power.

But apart from these gestures, it is far from clear whether the West is willing or able to pull Ukraine out of its ongoing crisis. “It’s a false promise,” says Stephen Szabo, the head of the Transatlantic Academy, a policy-research center based in Washington. “It’s going to lead to disillusionment in Ukraine.”

In the coming months, Ukraine faces some of the toughest economic times in its history, and the West’s proposed rescue package comes with some very painful strings attached. An emergency loan worth $17 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a global lender backed mostly by the U.S. and Europe, would force drastic reforms on the Ukrainian economy. By accepting the loan, the government would commit to devaluing its currency, slashing its budget and cutting subsidies on the price of natural gas for all but its poorest citizens. That would lead to a sharp spike in the cost of basic goods, including the bread that Nuland brought to the square on Wednesday.

For President Viktor Yanukovych, who is up for re-election in just over a year, these measures would amount to political suicide. On his watch, the economy has already fallen into a yearlong recession, pushed down by weak demand in Europe for Ukrainian exports, and in August, Russia made matters worse by cutting off trade with Ukraine as punishment for its drift toward the West. Squeezed from all sides, Yanukovych then turned away at the last minute from the E.U. integration deal, thus putting all aid from the IMF on hold.

On Thursday, as the pro-E.U. protests showed no sign of easing in Kiev, his government seemed to make another U-turn. It sent a delegation to Brussels to resume cooperation talks with the E.U., whose commissioner for integration, Stefan Fuele, said afterward that the E.U. would provide “more and more” assistance to top up the aid from the IMF. Fuele did not, however, provide any specific figures. So it remains to be seen whether Europe’s generosity can match Ukrainian needs. To save the country from defaulting on its debts, the government says it requires more than $20 billion just to pay off its immediate obligations, including at least $2 billion owed to Russia for natural-gas supplies. Over the next seven years, Ukraine would need more than $200 billion to fund the reforms the E.U. is demanding, according to Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. And there is no way the E.U. would pony up anywhere near that kind of money, especially considering Ukraine’s reputation for corruption. “It’s a black hole,” says Stefan Meister, a Ukraine expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “If you put money into it, half of it ends up in secret accounts somewhere in Switzerland.”

No one understands that better than Russia, which has so far thought better than to offer Ukraine any kind of rescue package. “It’s about the wisdom of Russia,” says Dmitri Trenin, who heads the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. “The wisdom of Russia will be tested by Russia staying on the sidelines.” But for the West, he says, it’s too late for that. The diplomats joining the protests in Kiev have already signaled to the Ukrainian people that the West is coming to the rescue, Trenin says, “so something will have to be done.” But because of the enormity of Ukraine’s financial needs, the West cannot possibly do enough. So as the economy falls apart in the coming months, “the European Union will have to bear the brunt of resentment in Ukraine.”

But could the West have acted any differently? Could they have simply ignored the protests? Since the onset of the European financial crisis, talk of E.U. members pulling out of the bloc have become a lot more common than countries wanting to join. So these demonstrations gave the E.U. a badly needed ego boost. “The Europeans have been kind of inward looking, even somewhat cynical about European membership and European values,” says William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador in Ukraine. So when they looked over at the crowds in Kiev waving E.U. flags, the Europeans realized that “these guys really put a high premium on the things we have,” Taylor says. “And hey, maybe we should take inspiration from these Ukrainians.”

But taking inspiration and posing for pictures is one thing. Offering membership and financial bailouts is another. So far, no one is inviting Ukraine to join the E.U., which has had enough trouble in the past few years absorbing the troubled economies of Romania and Bulgaria. This week, the rotating presidency of the E.U. went from Lithuania, which has championed Ukraine’s integration with Europe, to the debt-wracked nation of Greece, which has little patience for charity cases other than its own. So in the next few months, just as Ukraine edges toward financial ruin, the concern of its Western neighbors will likely fade away.

32 comments
TAHKICT
TAHKICT

FACT CHECK—Gathering from the turnout of pro EU Ukrainian protesters it is obvious that following the next presidential election Ukraine will have an EU leaning president who will sign up with the EU.That will be so only if the elections are kosher and the pro Russians do not assassinate the candidate.

Arsen_Kazydub
Arsen_Kazydub

Ukraine DON'T NEED ANY MONEY from EU. We have money. The problem is that corrupted officials are stealing our money and send them to EU banks, for example in Switzerland. They stole around $25 billions per year - NEARLY A HALF OF ANNUAL BUDGET. The only help we are asking - to block accounts of president Yanukovich and his family. The people of Ukraine is able to do the rest. Please, don't leave ukrainians, we are very afraid of being a part of Soviet Union again.

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Just like Georgia, the Ukraine will be on its own. Russia will have the dominate influence there, or else. There is no oil there, so the U.S. won't push to hard in that region.

OlehKhavruk
OlehKhavruk

Dear authors of the famous Time Magazine, please take a note that you are misspelling the name of Ukraine's capital. Our capital is KYIV, Not Kiev. Here are the details: http://kyiv.of-cour.se Thank you for your time.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

On European square in downtown Kiev is a massive rally of supporters of the current authorities. About 200 thousand people have gathered to Express support to the President of the country Viktor Yanukovych and his political course.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umMxuQlKnbI

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Victoria Nuland dissatisfied with Ukrainian opposition. Lots of money was spent, but the revolution has not yet occurred in Ukraine . Nuland said the United States will continue to Finance the opposition.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Russia is the main creditor of Ukraine and the main importer of Ukrainian goods. Also Ukraine is interested in the reduction of gas prices.

Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, said, he understood why Ukraine moved towards Russia. "It is not especially popular in Europe to help states which are in a crisis ... and if you look at Moscow's proposals, they would offer Ukraine short-term assistance that we, as Europeans, cannot and do not want to afford."

Indeed, the majority of citizens of Ukraine does not support the policy of integration with the EU. The opposition in Ukraine not agrees on holding the public referendum on this issue. The opposition is afraid to hold a referendum, because the vast majority of Ukrainians wish to enter into a customs Union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

rotorhead1871
rotorhead1871

criminal oligarchs want to be together..that is why he favors russia over the EU...., maybe the populus will kill him like chowchesku....then the west can bring in some aid....and maybe some change...

TedKozma
TedKozma

Author is missing the point. The protests are no longer about EU. The Yanukovich's U-turn on EU association agreement triggered the pent up frustration with its government. Protests are now primarily against the corrupt regime as well as against returning into the Russian sphere. EU membership prospective serves as a distant, admittedly somewhat idealized, goal, a direction in which the society should move.

bonkim2003
bonkim2003

Losers all round. Ukraine is better off within the Russian sphere.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Thousands of people in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa rallied on Saturday, December 14, in support of their country’s accession to the Customs Union created by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

The demonstrators walked along the streets in what they called a March for Alternative, chanting “Odessa for the Customs Union,” “Away with the Orange Plague,” “We take no orders from the West” and “No to Eurohysteria!” They urged the Ukrainian authorities to resolve disputable issues concerning European integration in a referendum.

ITAR-TASS

orly
orly

@OlehKhavruk the author also misspelled the word german, i believe the correct spelling is deutsch.

MyroslavaJacklitsch
MyroslavaJacklitsch

@Sibir_Russia Yeh,sure,keep listening to Azarov... Azarov openly lied about legalization of same sex marriages,because anyone with brains and knowledge of EU requirements knows,that it isn't true. Poland,for one never legalized the same sex marriages just like some other EU members.  For someone to repeat such  ignorant,(or rather, deceitful),statements is to show his own ignorance. But, considering your insignia, this is hardly surprising. Putin expects his faithful to not stray away from his agenda.  

Arsen_Kazydub
Arsen_Kazydub

@Sibir_Russia  Everybody knows, that all these people were forced to go there because of fear. They were told, that they would be fired in case they don't want to go.

JohnGlenn1
JohnGlenn1

@Sibir_Russia as a person in Ukraine right now, I can tell there were no more than 20 thousand protesters, mainly state employees who were *forced* into the rally by their Regions Party bosses, under the threat of being fired. 

ovich
ovich

@TedKozma  


Exactly.  It was "last straw".

Yanukovych "Family" embezzled at least $10 billion yearly for almost 4 years.  Simple math. They've been sucking Ukraine dry.  Plus another 2 years till 2015.  

To save the country, THIS "president" and THIS "government" have to be kicked off the "feeder" - now, forever.

MyroslavaJacklitsch
MyroslavaJacklitsch

@bonkim2003 Says who ?!  Just leave it to us,Ukrainians, decide what we want to do. Regardless, the Majdan Protest in Kyiv is now  very little,(if anything),to do with EU. However, Ukraine has been within this Russian sphere of yours for all the years of Yanukovich's presidency, and as a result my country is facing its worst times since Independence. Within  European market and its law governed 'rules of engagement' Ukrainian economy has the only chance of success. The only one gaining from Ukraine joining Russian agreement is Russia, not even Ukrain ian  oligarchs,who are associated in EU long ago.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@MyroslavaJacklitsch@Sibir_Russia

Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov said he EU had insisted on unacceptable conditions to strike a deal with Brussels, including the introduction of gay marriage and laws protecting sexual minorities.

"The opposition leaders are telling fables when they say that we only have to sign the [association] agreement [with the EU] to start traveling to Europe visa-free the next day. Nothing of the sort. We have yet to comply with a whole set of preconditions: we have to legalize same-sex marriages, we have to adopt legislation on equality of sexual minorities, and so on. Is our society ready for this?" The answer was a roaring "NO", accompanied by emotional expressions of disapproval including whistles.


Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@MyroslavaJacklitsch@Sibir_Russia  

That you are not clear in the word referendum?
If you want to avoid a referendum through a revolution or civil war in Ukraine, then ask Americans more money. Because those money that they give out today for the revolution is not enough.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@JohnGlenn1@Sibir_Russia
The position of Yanukovych is that need to ask the opinion of the majority of Ukrainians. He supports the idea of a referendum. The opposition is afraid of the referendum, because suffer defeat.  But Democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority. In the XXI century has to solve the issues in a civilized manner, without any hysterics. There shall be no interference in the sovereign Affairs of other countries.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@JohnGlenn1@Sibir_Russia
Russia's position is that the Ukrainians  should agree between themselves without outside interference. Vladimir Putin said that we will respect any choice of Ukraine. What is your personal position on this issue? You agree to carry out referendum?

MyroslavaJacklitsch
MyroslavaJacklitsch

@JohnGlenn1 @Sibir_Russia Dear John, There is no point producing to this Russian "expert"  any proofs to the contrary : His goal is to discredit the Ukrainian anti government protest. There goes Russian demand of everyone to respect wishes of Ukrainian people,-  as long as their wishes coincide with those of Putin's Policy. As to Russians themselves, we can only pity them : they have been denied freedom way to long to remember how to use it. However, in case of Sibir Russia, he is not here for a breath of truth, he has got an agenda.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@JohnGlenn1@Sibir_Russia
This is a quote from the news. Azarov generally said that there were about 250 thousand.

Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov told this to a crowd of some 250,000 people assembled in Kiev's Europe Square Saturday at a rally in support of President Viktor Yanukovych.


Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@AlinaSenkov@Sibir_Russia  

Russia is not just Ukraine’s main trade and economic partner; it is also the country’s main creditor. It also goes without saying that should Kiev make a U-turn to the East, Moscow would be willing to discuss the issue of providing Ukraine with both banking and commercial loans. This would also include by way of deferring payments on natural gas supplies. At the end of November, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to reporters, said that the debt on loans issued to Ukrainian banks by Gazprombank, Sberbank, VEB and VTB amounts to a total of USD 20 billion and RUB 280 billion. Furthermore, Russia has made an advance payment for the transit of natural gas through Ukraine until January 2015 to the tune of USD 4 billion. As the Russian president has declared time and again, the Russian Federation is ready to discuss the issue of Ukraine’s membership in the Customs Union and in the Eurasian Economic Union after which, as a member of these unions, the country could be issued with new loans... 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@AlinaSenkov@Sibir_Russia
What do you disagree?
Ukraine’s main trade and economic partner was, and still is, the Russian Federation. All other countries, including Germany and other EU countries, are lagging behind Russia in terms of the volume of foreign trade turnover with Ukraine many times over. In 2012, Germany made up just 8 percent of Ukrainian imports, i.e. four times less than Russia. It is interesting that despite all the calls for «European elections», Russia’s share in Ukraine’s foreign trade turnover has continued to grow in recent years, rather than fall. Between 2009 and 2012, Russia’s share in Ukrainian exports grew from 21.4 percent to 26.5 percent, and in Ukrainian imports from 29.1 percent to 32.4 percent.