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Ukraine

Her Western Neighbors Must Not Let Ukraine Down

From Poland to Western Europe and beyond, Ukrainian democracy needs cash to flourish. There may not be a third chance.

The faces of Euromaidan
The faces of Euromaidan
Jacek Zakowski

-OpEd-

WARSAW — Afer being released from a prison hospital last Saturday, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko told the crowd gathered on Independence Square, “Do not disperse.”

They were sage words, and their message should be the crucial element of all the plans and programs for Ukraine in the upcoming months.

Despite the initial enthusiasm in Kiev — and around the world, in Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and Brussels — Ukraine’s newfound freedom is not a window into paradise, but instead into a grim purgatory through which the country will have to wander for years.

This is not the first time that Kiev has witnessed a democratic turnover. There was the 2004 Orange Revolution, and before that President Leonid Kuchma awakened hope for a Ukraine tailored to the Western model. But each time, the country’s politics took off in the opposite direction. The state became even more corrupted, Russian influences grew stronger, and oligarchs became richer while the people suffered. After short moments of exultation, it was business as usual.

The possibility that it will happen once again is among the bleak scenarios that include civil war, secession, disintegration, and a hard dictatorship. There is, after all, just cause for fear. None of the factors responsible for the past failures of Ukrainian democracy has disappeared. The country is dependent on Russia, it does not have a democratic tradition or culture, and corruption is ubiquitous.

One more chance — with the West’s help

Thanks to the victory of Maidan protesters, Ukraine has yet another historic opportunity. But the chances for success are as unclear as ever. Even if the country follows the right path this time — introducing changes to the political system, building a rule of law, and limiting the influence of oligarchs — it will be years before Ukraine’s society and economy register any positive changes.

If the West wants Ukraine to stay the course this time, it must give Kiev the financial aid it needs to pay for reforms and lower its social costs. A good word is not enough. The aid should be preceded by a couple of months of negotiations between international institutions and the new Ukrainian government. But Ukraine does not have that time.

Kiev counts days. After Russia reneged on plans to buy Ukrainian bonds — part of a December 2013 agreement between the two countries — Ukraine is dependent on the unconditional generosity of the West, including Poland.

When Polish opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski left to join Maidan protesters, the Polish foreign affairs minister asked how much money Poland should pour into “the corrupted Ukrainian economy?” Roughly three months later, the question rebounds to its author.

In fact, all Polish politicians who have been supporting Maidan protesters should answer this question. How much Polish money do we want to spend to ensure that the Ukrainian revolution does not go bankrupt?

“I put my money where my mouth is,” George Soros said a few years ago when donating $1 million to Barack Obama’s campaign. Now it’s time for Polish politicians to repeat this sentence. After having initiated a successful mediation, we should offer effective financial support.

We can afford to invest in Ukrainian bonds $1 billion of the hundred we have in our reserve currency. We can also increase this year’s budget deficit to help the new Ukraine. If Poland sets an example, other governments will follow.

We should treat it as an investment in a better future for the whole of Europe. If we unite in this goal, we can bridge the gap in Ukrainian finances, at least in the short term. Then we can begin working together with Ukrainians on more lasting goals.

Neither Poland, Ukraine nor the European Union can afford to lose this chance. Because there may not be another.

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