By The Editorial Board Of The New York Times
The United States and Europe may finally be ready to put some real emergency aid on the table as part of an effort to resolve the political crisis in Ukraine and to tie the country more closely to the West. Without such an offer of financial support, Russia will continue to have leverage to bully Ukraine into its geopolitical orbit. The standoff over economic policy and whether Ukraine will ally with Europe or Russia is more than two months old and has led to violent protests in which at least six people were killed.
Details of the aid package are still under negotiation in Europe and the United States, but there should be little doubt about the need. Ukraine’s economy is on the brink of failure and its politics has been in turmoil since the president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected an economic pact with Europe in favor of an offer from Russia for $15 billion in assistance. Russia, playing hardball after Mr. Yanukovych announced plans to replace his cabinet to appease protesters, last week suspended a portion of the aid and thus left an opening for the Americans and Europeans to make their own offer.
The Western package is mainly intended as bridge financing to get a new Ukrainian government, if one is formed, through a transition period so it can make the sufficient reforms needed to qualify for a long-delayed loan from the International Monetary Fund. The West is looking for a government of experts, possibly led by an opposition leader.
There is undoubtedly risk because it is not at all clear that Mr. Yanukovych and the opposition can find any basis for real compromise, or, if they do, make it work over the long term. But the West needs to be even more committed than Russia in offering Ukraine a compelling path forward. And it needs to move quickly. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, told The Wall Street Journal over the weekend that the package could include not just money but loan guarantees, investment and currency stabilization.
In the past two weeks, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr.; Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany; and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, have been in daily and rotating contact with Mr. Yanukovych.
It was reassuring to hear Secretary of State John Kerry tell a security conference in Munich over the weekend that “nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine” and to affirm that the United States and Europe “stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight.” That will mean providing the parties in Ukraine with whatever mediation and support might be useful.
During the Munich conference, Mr. Kerry met with Ukrainian opposition leaders as did the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Diplomatic contacts are essential. But as long as the situation remains volatile, with the potential for all-out civil war, the West must also be prepared to impose sanctions on any party that uses force but especially the government. The Obama administration has already revoked the visas of some Ukrainian officials and is preparing other sanctions if needed. The Europeans have been far more reluctant to threaten penalties, although, on Tuesday, Mr. Steinmeier raised the possibility of sanctions.
Ukraine, one of the most important countries to emerge from the former Soviet Union, is at a critical point. Mr. Yanukovych’s grip on power is slipping, yet, even after offering the opposition some concessions, he is still playing for time under the sway of Russian and Ukrainian hard-liners. The opposition also needs to negotiate seriously on a way out of the current turmoil.
February, 4, 2014