Bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropist Ge­orge Soros has poured mil­lions into be­lea­guered Ukraine. Now he wants the West to do the same

National Post (Latest Edition) - - IDEAS - Anna Porter Anna Porter is a pub­lisher and au­thor of Buy­ing a Bet­ter World: Ge­orge Soros and Bil­lion­aire Phi­lan­thropy.

It seems that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel may come around to sup­port­ing some sort of res­cue pack­age for Ukraine, if not the di­rect pro­vi­sion of arms many of Ukraine’s friends in the West have ad­vo­cated. The Ukrainian gov­ern­ment can’t af­ford to buy the sort of mod­ern weapons it needs to de­fend it­self against the wellarmed Rus­sians and Ukrainian sep­a­ratists wreak­ing havoc in the East of the coun­try. It is out of cash.

That is one rea­son why the bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropist Ge­orge Soros has been ad­vo­cat­ing an im­me­di­ate cash in­jec­tion of $20-bil­lion — ris­ing to $50-bil­lion — to the be­lea­guered Ukrainian gov­ern­ment. “Europe is fac­ing a chal­lenge from Rus­sia to its very ex­is­tence,” Soros ob­serves.

Un­like Merkel and other West­ern lead­ers, Soros has first­hand knowl­edge of how the world looks from Kyiv. He has been in­volved in Ukraine since it claimed in­de­pen­dence from the Soviet Union. His In­ter­na­tional Re­nais­sance Foun­da­tion, an off­shoot of the Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tions Soros es­tab­lished in the 1980s, has poured tens of mil­lions of dol­lars into Ukrainian NGOs, spon­sored con­fer­ences, schol­ar­ships, hu­man-rights con­fabs and in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists.

Dur­ing my last in­ter­view with Soros, a year ago, he was still ebul­lient about the Maidan revo­lu­tion and its longterm ef­fects. But top­pling dic­ta­tors — even elected dic­ta­tors — isn’t enough in it­self to guar­an­tee a suc­cess­ful out­come. He has since called the events in Ukraine a “wake-up call” for Europe. Rus­sia, he said, has emerged as a ri­val to the Euro­pean Union and Putin, the dic­ta­tor of “a mafia state,” has suc­cess­fully out­ma­noeu­vred the Euro­peans. While Euro­pean gov­ern­ments squab­bled among them­selves to de­ter­mine the best re­sponse to Rus­sia’s thug­gery, Putin’s forces oc­cu­pied Crimea and bol­stered the sep­a­ratists in the East.

“I think Europe was to­tally un­pre­pared for this cri­sis,” Soros said, “but Putin has also mis­cal­cu­lated. He didn’t re­al­ize that the Ukrainian public could rise up spon­ta­neously.” Soros’s ad­vice was for the EU to con­cen­trate on strength­en­ing Ukraine rather than pun­ish­ing Rus­sia. Though smart sanc­tions have had a nasty ef­fect on the Rus­sian econ­omy they are, he thought, un­likely to stay Putin’s hand. More than 5,000 peo­ple have al­ready been killed in Ukraine and Rus­sia is not halt­ing its mil­i­tary in­va­sion.

Last week, Merkel and French Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande went to Moscow to per­suade Putin to ac­cept the cease­fire he had agreed to pre­vi­ously. But Putin is un­de­terred by the kind of per­sua­sions prac­ticed by Euro­pean Union lead­ers. When faced with in­con­tro­vert­ible proof that Rus­sia is sup­port­ing the sep­a­ratists with both weapons and well-trained sol­diers, his strat­egy is one of which his Soviet pre­de­ces­sors would have been proud: lie.

Mean­while, Rus­sia be­gan what it re­ferred to as new com­bat ex­er­cises close to Ukraine’s eastern bor­der and near Sev­astapol.

Ukraine was the fo­cus of the re­cent Mu­nich Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence, where Soros re­peated his mantra that “Ukraine is what the Euro­pean Union ought to be — a par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy.” Un­for­tu­nately, the ghosts of the old Ukraine con­tinue to haunt the new, post-Maidan Ukraine. There is still cor­rup­tion, graft and the dan­ger that the for­mer gov­ern­ment’s se­cu­rity forces could wreak havoc within the frag­ile state and its new­found “spirit of vol­un­teerism.”

“Many peo­ple in gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment are vol­un­teers who have given up well-pay­ing jobs in or­der to serve their coun­try,” Soros said at a pri­vate din­ner in Davos last month. “Vol­un­teers are help­ing the one mil­lion in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple and work­ing as ad­vis­ers to min­is­ters and lo­cal gov­ern­ments. I have spent most of my time with them and I am im­pressed by their ma­tu­rity and de­ter­mi­na­tion.”

“They are up against the old Ukraine that is en­trenched in the bu­reau­cracy and the oli­garchy, who are in ca­hoots. And of course they are up against the de­ter­mi­nate hos­til­ity of Putin, who wants to desta­bi­lize Ukraine at all costs.”

Soros is a leg­end. As a fi­nan­cial wiz­ard who built a spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful hedge fund, he rocked gov­ern­ments with highly lever­aged cur­rency trades. As a phi­lan­thropist, he cre­ated a glob­ally ac­tive foun­da­tion whose man­date is based on his own of­ten-con­tentious ideas. He is a vil­lain to his crit­ics and a hero to those he has helped, who are con­vinced that the world would be a worse place with­out him. Un­like the Rock­e­fellers, the Fords, or Bill and Melinda Gates, he has been a so­cial ac­tivist with very spe­cific ideas about how to change the world.

Soros is an ide­al­ist, a man who seems to be­lieve that you can change the world to suit your benev­o­lent the­o­ries, if only you spend enough money and are able to in­ter­vene at the right mo­ment.

He has spent about US$12-bil­lion since 1985 in his ef­forts to change the way peo­ple think, and his foun­da­tions are con­tin­u­ing to spend his money at the rate of al­most $1-bil­lion a year. Ever since the fi­nan­cial cri­sis took a bite out of its economies, Soros has been lec­tur­ing the Euro­pean Union on how to save it­self.

While Merkel has made a habit of not lis­ten­ing to Soros, this time she may just have heard him af­ter all.


A ser­vice­man places car­na­tions on the cof­fin of Kir­ill Geintz, 28, a late mem­ber of a Ukrainian vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion, dur­ing his fu­neral in Kyiv on Feb. 12. There is a new­found spirit of vol­un­teerism in the coun­try, ob­servers say.

VASILY MAXIMOV / AFP / Gett y Imag es

A dam­aged build­ing is seen in the rebel-held Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Feb. 12, three days be­fore a cease­fire is to take ef­fect.

Ge­orge Soros

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