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