3 years on
Ukraine has made progress since the kleptocratic regime of Viktor Yanukovych and his followers fled like cockroaches on Feb. 22, 2014, with the former president hurriedly destroying documents and hauling his stolen loot into helicopters and trucks. Meanwhile, his top prosecutor, Viktor Pshonka, and tax chief, Oleksander Klymenko, were caught on surveillance video later barreling through security checkpoints at the Donetsk airport on their way to Russia to join Yanukovych in exile. What’s changed? Ukrainians have more confidence, commanding fear if not more respect from their rulers. Government and parliament have many more people working in the public interest rather than their own interests. Civil society continues to reach new heights.
Conditional Western credits combined with key reforms, such as raising energy prices to market levels, have enabled Ukraine to stabilize its economy despite having the limbs of Crimea and part of the Donbas chopped off.
And, most importantly, the nation has shown its willingness to fight for its survival and independence, regardless of domestic and foreign obstacles. By many important measures, Ukraine would make a great member of the NATO military alliance. Its leaders have committed to spending 5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, a higher share for the military than any of the 28 alliance members. The United States spends 3.6 percent of its GDP on defense, which translates into $662 billion. (By contrast, Ukraine’s 5 percent equals only roughly $5 billion.)
Ukraine’s soldiers are also battle-tested against soldiers of one of the greatest enemies to global democracy today, war criminal Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin regime. In withstanding Russian aggression, the Ukrainians have combatted the full range of Putin’s hybrid war arsenal -- military, propaganda and security services -- with patriotiism but woefully inadequate material resources.
What’s not changed fundamentally, however, is the corruption of Ukraine’s ruling elite, the lack of rule of law, ingrained Soviet habits and the greed and selfishness of many elite obstructing progress in transforming this nation into a democracy that is fully anchored into Western institutions.
But Ukrainians will be able to devote more time to cleaning the domestic house after defeating Russia in battle. This war cannot be allowed to go on forever because a frozen conflict will retard Ukraine’s economic progress and remain a threat to its sovereignty. The West needs to arm Ukraine and toughen sanctions against Russia. Western governments are now belatedly realizing that, if they had more strongly assisted Ukraine in the beginning of Russia’s war, they might not have to spend the tens of billions of dollars more they are allocating now to take on the growing Kremlin threat. Let’s count it up: NATO allies have increased their defense spending by $10 billion in 2016. The British government is spending $873 million on an “Empowerment Fund” to counter Putin’s propaganda and cyber-warfare. Other European Union nations, individually and collectively, are spending even more.
In America, led by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (Republican-Ohio) and U.S. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy ( Democrat-Connecticut), $160 million will be spent over two years to fight propaganda state actors through the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center. Also, on Feb. 7, Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John Lansing kicked off a new 24/7 Russian-language television and digital network, Current Time, a multimillion-dollar joint production of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, led by Tom Kent, and Voice of America, led by Amanda Bennett.
The Kyiv Post welcomes these additions, but notes that we’ve been combatting Russian propaganda with truth for 22 years with far fewer resources.
It would have been cheaper and more effective to help Ukraine, including independent journalists in Ukraine, with more financial aid -- toughly conditioned to stamp out corruption among Ukraine’s rulers -- and military assistance. More people are waking up to the reality that, unless the Kremlin is confronted more decisively by the stronger West, its menacing ways will spread. In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Feb. 22, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Democrat-Illinois) in Kyiv said that Russia “gives no indication they’re backing off. We have to give to Ukraine the tools and weapons they need to protect their own people.”
Any time reality dawns, no matter how tardily, it’s always a welcome development.