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Walter Russell Mead: Springtime in Kiev, or Just Another Winter Storm?

Kiev-mead

With a revolution on, the chances that events in Ukraine could provoke a dangerous confrontation between Russia and the West may be increasing.

Walter Russell Mead writes:  For the third time in a generation, there is revolution in Ukraine. For the second time in a decade, Viktor Yanukovych has been overthrown in Kiev. It is impossible not to rejoice that the goons and thugs who sought to tie Ukraine to Putin’s imperial project by massacring their fellow citizens in the streets of Kiev were defeated. But it is much too soon to conclude that the next Ukrainian government, whatever it may be, will be any more successful than its predecessors.

“The political leadership of virtually every major party or movement in Ukrainian life is sketchy at best; many are corrupt tools of business interests, some are inexperienced hotheads with ties to dubious forms of ultra-nationalist ideology…”

Worse, if anything the chances that events in Ukraine could provoke a dangerous confrontation between Russia and the West may be increasing.

[Check out Walter Russell Mead's book "Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World" at Amazon]

None of the core facts in Ukraine changed last night. Ukraine is a divided country with a weak state and ineffective institutions. The oligarchs who clawed their way to the top when communism collapsed still hold their ill-gotten gains, still manage their business affairs in the Wild East ways of the post-Soviet days, still dominate politics and economic development and have yet to be brought under any kind of effective legal control. Ukraine’s abject energy dependence on Russia creates a sea of political and economic problems which no Ukrainian government since independence has been able to manage.

The political leadership of virtually every major party or movement in Ukrainian life is sketchy at best; many are corrupt tools of business interests, some are inexperienced hotheads with ties to dubious forms of ultra-nationalist ideology. The country is still close to insolvent, with no way to pay large debts coming due. Russia, a predatory neighbor with dreams of subverting Ukraine’s independence, still enjoys the support, purchased or sincere, of a significant network inside Ukraine’s establishment. The EU remains divided over the prospect of Ukrainian membership; the EU also faces tight fiscal constraints as it struggles in the toils of its ongoing euro catastrophe.

These problems have led to the failure of every Ukrainian government since independence; unless something changes they will likely also doom whatever government emerges from the current turmoil as well.

The problem for the outsiders interested in Ukraine’s fate is a simple one, and it is shared by both Russia and the West. There are lots of intelligent, hard working people in Ukraine, but the country’s deep divisions and weak institutions make it impossible for any government to carry out the kinds of policy changes that could attach the country firmly either to Brussels or Moscow. The ‘westerners’ in Ukrainian politics cannot comply with EU demands to cleanse the state and political institutions from the shady influence of corrupt oligarchs; the ‘easterners’ cannot suppress or control the violent revulsion against the Kremlin and its methods that dominates the politics and culture of half the country.

To restate this dilemma in somewhat different terms, Ukrainian society is unable to produce a strong and united government that could limit the influence of foreign interests and lobbiesUkrainian society is unable to produce a strong and united government that could limit the influence of foreign interests and lobbies so that the Ukrainian state and people would follow a consistent course toward either Moscow or Brussels, much less find some kind of effective pathway in between. Meanwhile, given the inability of internal forces to set a firm course, Russia lacks the resources and the West lacks the will to attach Ukraine firmly and irrevocably to either camp. Thus we see what we see: a succession of failed governments as the country flounders and slithers in the mist.

There are three possible futures for Ukraine. In the short term some kind of continuation of the status quo of indecision and drift seems the most likely alternative, but such a volatile and unsatisfactory status quo is unlikely to endure into the indefinite future. When and if the status quo finally ends, Ukraine can go one of two ways. One is partition: the east and the west go their separate ways, as the eastern portion returns to the Kremlin’s embrace, and the west prepares for the EU. The alternative is that either Moscow or the West succeeds in drawing the whole country to its side…

Read more…

The American Interest

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2 Comments on “Walter Russell Mead: Springtime in Kiev, or Just Another Winter Storm?”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet With a revolution on, the chances that events in Ukraine could provoke a dangerous confrontation […]


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