3 years on

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

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.

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