Jessica Atlas contributed to this post.
The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted a conversation on Ukraine’s democracy, geopolitics, economics and energy, with a panel of foreign policy experts including:
- Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and Senior Advisor, BPC
- Ambassdor Ryszard Schnepf, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the United States
- Ambassador Steven Pifer, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Director, Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative
- Yaroslav Brisiuck, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Ukraine to the United States
In the wake of the current situation in Ukraine, including the pseudo-ceasefire, the retreat of Yanukovych and attempts of Russia to secede Crimea from Ukraine, we’ve captured highlights from BPC’s discussion below.
The crisis “has different faces…expressed surprise, many disappointment, so why did it happen, what caused a dramatic change in Ukrainian posture to reject…a generous European offer? – Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf in reference to the rejection of European Union (EU) association
Shocked protestors who believed that the ink was drying on the EU Association agreement descended upon Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on November 21 following Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU’s deal. This was a blow to democracy as more than 60 percent of Ukrainians support EU integration, indicating the disregard of voter preferences. Corruption, authoritarianism and a failure to grow the economy all played an integral part in the call for new free and fair elections. The president refused to give into the demands of the demonstrators, turning to violence as a means for shutting down the dissent. February saw some of the most violent protests, with more than 77 Ukrainians gunned down by the police. Ultimately, the commitment to change demonstrated by the Ukrainian protestors convinced the president to concede to early elections in an EU-Russian mediated deal. Fearful of violent outbursts from those he oppressed, Yanukovych fled his Kiev palaces for Crimea, allowing the opposition to seize control and place Olexander Turchynov in the presidential seat of Ukraine.
“The economics of the choices…the kinds of reforms that could bring about one of the most crucial change that Ukraine needs to bring about, grappling with the type of corruption that has existed internally, and the lack of the structure that attacks a higher level of foreign investment. What Ukraine gets out of the Association is consistency, it is a structure, and it is also stability.” – Ambassador Paula Dobriansky
Ukraine’s rejection of the European offer was motivated, at least in part, by the combination of economic carrots and sticks extended by Moscow. Foremost among these was the very real threat that Russia could, as it has before, turn off the natural gas imports on which Ukrainians are dependent during the cold winter months. Putin was also able to offer a direct instant injection of $15 billion, compared to the promise of far off trade benefits due to closer ties with the EU. As Amb. Dobriansky noted, however, the Russian package was simply a onetime stop-gap payment to the country, and would fail to spur any real change to issues like corruption and economic structure.
Unfortunately, all of these problems remain, and addressing them is still a pressing challenge as the stability of Ukraine’s new government is perhaps the best bulwark against further Russian incursions. Indeed, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk estimated on March 3 that $35 billion is needed to stabilize Ukraine’s economy. To help fill this shortfall, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has offered $15 billion in loans and grants following Yanukovych’s departure. For the long-term development of Ukraine, it is critical that such assistance lead to political and economic reforms and be coupled with a focus on international investment, and attempt to supply “reverse flows” of oil from the EU to Ukraine to circumvent any punitive measure that Putin would economically take.
International Implications: Strategic Role of Ukraine in Geopolitical and Ideational Politics
“Ukraine Matters, it matters greatly…, the reason being you have a country of 40 million people, roughly the size of France…one at the crossroads of Europe and Asia…it its significant in terms of its agricultural base and its resource base…it matters.” -Ambassador Paula Dobriansky
Ukraine matters. Strategically, Ukraine matters considerably to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, as its resource and geopolitical location serves the West’s interests very well. Ukraine is essential for gas transit to Europe from Russia, where many key U.S. allies are located. Forty percent of all European natural gas comes from Russia, and 20 percent travels directly through Ukraine. Infighting in Ukraine will not only raise the price of energy in Europe and could also result in pipeline shutdowns, depriving America’s European allies of energy. The fate of Ukraine also matters for the damage that could be done to the principles and values the United States has committed to uphold on the world stage. Territorial sovereignty is a basic right guaranteed for all countries in the Charter of the United Nations and guaranteed specifically by Russia in the 1994 Budapest Agreement. It is concerning that Putin is promoting the secession of Crimea in spite of this international mandate; it sets a dangerous precedent that Russia might exploit to further its grip on other former Soviet satellites or other countries could cite to justify their own interference with their neighbors. Similarly, Moscow’s disregard for and continued undermining of the legitimate decisions of Ukraine’s people about the government they wish to rule their country, further erodes the standing of democracy in the world.