Reflections on Lost Chances: Ukraine and the CIS

As the pretend, latest, pointless ceasefire in the Donbass celebrates another week of artillery-fueled “peace,”complete with more destroyed infrastructure and more lives pointlessly lost; and Russia continues to move men, materiel, and memorial markers into Ukraine, the world remains riveted on … Greece, and the inevitable bailout headed its way.

That idiocy — a focus on Euro-kabuki while the East burns — has been the story of Ukraine’s battered existence for almost five years. When Viktor Yanukovych defeated Yulia Tymoshenko for the presidency, Europe’s talking heads — completely bereft of any understanding of how power shifts in Kyiv —  recoiled and went back to trying to keep the tottering eurozone relevant as anything other than a free-trade area. When Yanukovych all but begged for any kind of assistance to hold back the Russian threat, Europe waved him away, its eyes always on Athens. When Crimea was consumed, when the Donbass erupted in flames, all the West could manage was some collective back-patting over having helped usher out a democratically-elected president in favor of a popular revolt.

It need not have been this way. Ukraine could be an undivided country, straddling East and West. Unlike Greece, Ukraine under Yanukovych showed a willingness to reform both in both the state and private sectors. Unlike Greece, Ukraine has the resources and capacity to be an economic engine. (In its defense, Greece is very good at producing enough civil servants to capably support every developed nation on Earth.) Ukraine today would not be shattered by a Russian-backed (but in some areas, locally popular) insurgency; while it would not be any sort of match for Germany or France, it would be a much better investment than Greece.

Ukraine would also have been a lesson for the former Soviet Republics in or on the edge of Moscow’s sway, a symbol of a West committed to helping end Russian hegemony and the worst legacies of Russian domination. Armenia’s rapid fall to Moscow would be an aberration, and perhaps even only a temporary condition in itself. Azerbaijan would know that the West valued those who challenged Russian hegemony. The quixotic Kazakhs, the Uzbeks, and so many more would have seen that there is value in hard reform, and holding out a hand to the West.

Instead, Europe and the West turned back to what they truly care about: themselves. Ukraine does not much appear in the news today except when this airport burns or this town collapses. Why worry about Kyiv when your staff can enjoy Aegean resorts while watching the Greeks and eurocrats haggle over what everyone knows is coming?

Ukraine could have been a symbol of the West’s determination and ability to make its vision of the world a reality.

Ukraine today is a symbol of Western impotence and indifference. And the former Soviet Union is watching.

Image Copyright Voice of America