February 2014 – UKRAINE – Ukraine may well be the geopolitical prize nobody can afford to win. As the country begins the delicate climb out of the chaos that saw yet another political turnover, the U.S. and the European Union have had a look at the Ukrainian government’s books. It’s a grim picture that is testing the political will and financial wherewithal of potential Western benefactors. “The real question now is how much of the burden of dealing with Ukraine is going to be European and how much the Europeans are going to be able to slough off onto the American taxpayer,” said Wayne Merry, a scholar at the American Foreign Policy Council. Right now, he said, Ukraine is fairly low on Washington’s list of priorities amid bigger problems in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and nuclear negotiations with Iran. Ukraine’s acting finance minister, Yuri Kobolov, says the country needs $35 billion to cover this year and next. He is looking to Europe or the United States for help, hopefully within the next two weeks. Jonathan Adelman, professor of international relations at the University of Denver, said he sees little chance of the Washington coming through at a time of budgetary difficulties, highlighted this week when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed to shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest size since the 1940s. “There’s going to be no enthusiasm here for the tens of billions of dollars it would take to bail Ukraine out,” Adelman said. Ukraine has major debt repayments coming up in June but analysts indicate it will have difficulty making it that far without help.
A rescue with outside lenders can’t be agreed until there’s a government, and the Ukrainian Parliament has postponed the formation of one until Thursday. The crisis in Ukraine blew up when President Viktor Yanukovych, at the last minute late last year, backed out of an association deal with the European Union in favor of a promised $15 billion bailout from Russia. That angered Ukrainians from pro-European central and western regions. Russia’s bailout is now on hold after the Ukrainian parliament voted Saturday to remove Yanukovych, who fled the capital and went into hiding after months of protests against his government. The country has only gotten $3 billion of the money. EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday that the EU and its member nations are ready to help bridge Ukraine’s short-term financing needs until a new government can negotiate a full-fledged assistance package with the International Monetary Fund. She said it was important that Russia also help out. But James Collins, former U.S. ambassador to Moscow and diplomat in residence at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to stand back and let the situation in Ukraine play out for the time being. Ukraine, a country of 46 million, is torn between its pro-European western regions and its Russian-speaking east and south. The tensions date back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s unexpected independence in 1991. In the Crimean Peninsula, protesters rallied this week against the new authorities in Kyiv and pleaded for protection from Moscow. –PGC