In an op-ed for the New York Times, philanthropist and investor George Soros, along with philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, made the case for Europe to embrace the changes Ukraine has undergone since driving former President Viktor Yanukovych from office. But with continued antagonism from Russian President Vladimir Putin, do leaders of the European Union even know what they’re passing up by not forming closer ties with Ukraine?
Though still in a transitory state, Ukraine has made great strides to differentiate itself from the image it has had since the fall of the Soviet Union. A big part of which has been the broadening of democracy to imitate western European nations, populated with representatives who have taken seats in Parliament as an act of civil service, many sacrificing well paying jobs in the process. It’s a sign Ukraine is interested in building a functioning nation rather than an oligarchy operating in the shadow of the Soviet Union which still holds sway over much of Eastern Europe today.
Ukraine is still making steps to rehabilitate its image and how its government functions in respect to its citizens. But with Russia dealing with the economic sanctions levied against it by western democracies following the annexation of Crimea, Putin has turned to making the west a boogeyman and Ukraine its puppet. This has manifested in years of economic and military pressure from Russia along the Crimean border and further into the country of Ukraine. It’s been great for his popularity at home, seeing as how Ukraine lacks the forces and dollars to compete with a country several times larger than itself.
According to Soros, the way to help Ukraine stand against Russian aggression is financial assistance to the tune of $15 billion to help their survival. This is an amount that would encourage private dollars to find their way into the country and boost the economy. This would also make Ukraine a more attractive political partner worthy of a commitment that would put Russia in check and help institutional reforms take shape. This isn’t something that’s been kept from leaders in the European Union, but the longer they take to align themselves properly the more opportunities Putin is given to exploit the current state of play.
The failure of the European Union’s leadership to recognize Ukraine’s need is also a potential loss for Europe as a whole. Losing this political ally, Soros points out, would open the door for Russia to resume an authoritative role within the country and pull them away from alliances with the western world. Financial assistance and political partnership with Ukraine would not only be a show of reform within Eastern Europe but also be a push against the Russian military and potentially drive them from the border.
Additionally, this could render Putin’s repeated claims of European aggression against the Russian people impotent. With the loss of rhetoric and compounding economic issues from sanctions perhaps Russian leadership would consider the benefits of embracing strategic partnership and abandoning their role of antagonist.