It’s clear that even with new leaders, the nations of the West have run out of ideas about how to force Russia to call off its war against Ukraine and return the Crimean peninsula, let alone combat the Kremlin’s attempts to menace the free world, including, it seems, with cyberwarfare attacks and assassinations abroad.
Western leaders don’t want to impose the tough, painful economic sanctions that will be needed to make the Kremlin change tack. Consequently, dangers will keep rising.
Germany and others, in fact, are continuing to promote cooperation with Russia, including via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. The main aim of the Kremlin-pushed project is to bypass Ukraine as a transit country, saving Russia, and denying Ukraine, up to $4 billion in transit fees a year.
Far from being treated as the leader of a rogue state, Putin continues to have a seat at the table with Western powers, who still desperately cling to the 2015 Minsk peace agreement and the four-nation Normandy format, even though the Kremlin dictator disregards both.
Meanwhile, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union cough up hundreds of millions of dollars in annual assistance to Ukraine — not with a particularly smart and coordinated strategy. In the U.S. and U.K. cases, it seems the money spent serves to assuage their guilt over their empty assurances of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
Russia violated that landmark agreement, under which Ukraine surrendered its Soviet-era nuclear weapons, and the implications are dire for the world if Ukraine does not regain its territory and peace.
As Dan Coats, the director of U.S. national intelligence, put it, Ukraine’s situation is a signal to nations with nuclear weapons that they should never give them up, and it is an equally powerful signal to nations without nuclear weapons that they should acquire them. So much for nuclear non-proliferation.
There is still time to save the situation, but the West needs to move with greater urgency, commitment and toughness. If the new dividing line in the world is free vs. unfree nations, so be it. Ukrainians want to be with the free nations. They deserve support.
Yet in helping Ukraine, the West shows naivety and a lack of imagination. Many Western governments have frittered away money on ineffective rule-of-law and other programs, leaving the situation no better than it was before: an unreformed Interior Ministry, Security Service of Ukraine, General Prosecutor’s Office and court system. To put it bluntly, Ukraine’s leaders have been playing the West’s leaders for fools.
Collectively, the Western nations and their ambassadors are far too indulgent of President Petro Poroshenko and Ukraine’s obstructionist domestic interests, including the oligarchs. They choose to ignore the fact that Poroshenko has been foot-dragging on the reform agenda for much of his three years in office.
This has got to stop. Ukraine deserves financial aid, even in greater amounts, but it must come with the strictest of conditions.
To get aid from the West, Ukrainian authorities must, at least: create an independent anti-corruption court; ensure greater staffing, independence and resources for anti-corruption institutions, from police to prosecutors; create a truly qualified and independent Supreme Court; sell off or close most of the 3,500 state-owned enterprises and lift the ban on farmland sales.
This, however, would just be a start to all the changes that are required to join the ranks of prosperous democracies.
We think Ukraine must go further. After more than three years of crimes going unpunished, Western leaders and civil society must join forces with the Ukrainian people to create a fast-track, anti-corruption judicial system to take on the biggest crimes and toughest financial fraud.
Considering this nation has been fleeced to the tune of tens of billions of dollars in the last three years alone, outside oversight is long overdue. There is no more time to wait for new institutions to take hold as the same old corrupt ones wield the power and resources.
The West rarely uses its leverage properly or strongly enough with Ukraine. The Ukrainian people want more help in this area because they see vested interests having success in blocking their aspirations.
If Ukrainians are to see any progress, it means the West will have to get tough on their obstructionist leaders. No progress, no aid. Simple as that. Otherwise, the money and people will continue to flow in one direction — out of Ukraine.