Ukraine left on its own

Moscow, March 18, 2014: a rally in Red Square celebrating Russia's annexation of Crimea (source: dpa)
Moscow, March 18, 2014: a rally in Red Square celebrating Russia's annexation of Crimea (source: dpa)

To paraphrase Charles de Gaulle: “No nation has friends, only interests.” There can be sustainable partnerships based on common interest, as long as governments’ long-term strategic goals align, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Good examples of this include the transatlantic partnership between the United States, Canada and Europe during the Cold War and the German-French partnership at the creation of the common market.

Over the last 30 years, however, we have seen that day-to-day politics – especially at the local level – sways and even forms the foundations for foreign and economic policy decisions that should be guided by long-term strategies. Domestic political machinations now have substantial influence over security and foreign policy issues.

As a result, formerly rock-solid partnerships can become shaky, once dependable partners become unreliable.

This phenomenon is a result of poor leadership. And it will not only have grave consequences for international relations, but also for economies: it leads to increased protectionism, the biggest threat to prosperity.

When it comes to foreign and security policy, the effects could be dramatic. Politics and public opinion, unhinged from any sort of long-term strategy, appear able to handle only one problem at the time.

Which brings us to Ukraine. The West, unable to cope with the manifold crises it faces, now primarily sees the conflict in Ukraine as a local issue.

The 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius enjoyed plenty of enthusiasm on the European Union side, but there was little consideration for how Russia might respond. Under pressure from the Kremlin, then President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine refused to sign an agreement on closer trade relations with the EU. This led to the “Euromaidan” movement that eventually ousted the Yanukovych regime.

During that movement, the Ukrainian people were implicitly promised a much closer relationship with the EU. The U.S. also lent its political support. A Western-oriented government was installed in Kiev.

Russia reacted with a heavy hand. Though it caught the U.S. and Europe off guard, it was easily foreseeable. The loss of Crimea and the port of Sevastopol would have destroyed Russia’s Black Sea and Mediterranean interests. Russia views Ukraine as an essential part of its national heritage and sphere of influence.

Russia occupied and annexed Crimea. A rebellion broke out in the eastern Donbas. The U.S. response was to “support” Ukraine, though not militarily. Financial backing from the European Union was insufficient and conditional. Important and easy trust-building measures, such as granting visa-free entry to Ukrainians, still remain unimplemented.

The West’s support for Ukraine was limited to words, diplomacy and sanctions against Russia. Priorities have shifted to other issues, such as the refugee crisis in Europe.

Ukraine’s fate therefore depends on Ukraine and on its efforts to establish a lean, efficient, decentralized government. Less bureaucracy would curtail corruption.

IMF and EU funds so far have flowed to the government and to banks – but not to business. Bureaucracy and corruption are holding entrepreneurial endeavors back.

Simplifying the system would allow viable businesses to be created. Global financial institutions could then establish a “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine’s business community, using funds earmarked not for the government, but exclusively for commercial activity.

Related statements:

Neglected Ukraine crisis threatens Europe more than Greek bankrupcy

Europe lets down Ukraine

Related reports:

IMF puts itself in a fix as it bends rules to bail out Ukraine

Global trends: Ukraine fatigue may force bargain with Russia

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