Orange Revolution Redux in the Ukraine: America Should Stay Out

Nine years after the so-called Orange Revolution against electoral fraud, opponents of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich hope to stage a repeat.  But the issue today, whether Kiev aligns economically with Europe or Russia, doesn’t much concern the U.S. 

In 2004 the Orange Revolution helped deliver the presidency to Western-favorite Viktor Yushchenko, a disastrous incompetent.  Yanukovich narrowly won the 2009 race. 

He has been negotiating over an Association Agreement with the European Union.  However, Brussels demanded political concessions, most importantly the freeing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been prosecuted by Yanukovich’s government, and refused to offer cash assistance. 

At the same time Vladimir Putin pushed Kiev to forswear the EU and join the Moscow-led Customs Union.  And Moscow brought cash to the table.  To the consternation of Brussels, last month the Yanukovich government signed an accord with Russia—though without joining the CU.

Brussels and Washington were shocked, shocked.  New German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “It is utterly scandalous how Russia used Ukraine’s economic plight for its own ends.”

Sen. John McCain visited Kiev, where he complained that “President Putin has pulled out all the stops to coerce, intimidate and threaten Ukraine away from Europe.”  Former Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky demanded “a broad range of measures, including WTO sanctions, Russian expulsion from the Group of Eight and even a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics by political leaders, unless Moscow abandons its strong-arm tactics toward Kiev.” 

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. 

After all, the EU was pushing Kiev into making political concessions and choosing Europe over Russia.  In return, the Europeans offered the prospect of economic gain through increased trade.  After Kiev said no European officials said billions in grants and loans would have been forthcoming had Ukraine signed with the EU. 

As I point out in my latest Forbes online column:

Of course, Washington goes not one hour, let alone one day, without attempting to bribe or coerce another government to do something.  The American secretary of state circles the globe constantly lecturing other nations how to behave.  Since the end of the Cold War the U.S. has been the warrior state, routinely using military means to achieve its ends.  Indeed, Sen. McCain has variously supported war against Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Serbia, and Syria.

Russia is guilty of heavy-handedness?

Yes, the West offers a better, freer path.  Which is why protests have broken out over Ukraine’s abandonment of the EU.  It’s fair for Washington to wish the critics well and warn Kiev against a violent response. 

But why should Brussels or Washington meddle in the decision itself?  The Wall Street Journal insisted that the Obama administration “stand up for America’s interests and values.”  But what are they in Ukraine? 

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland declared at the opposition rally in Kiev:  “the U.S. stands with you in your search for justice, for human dignity and security, for economic health, and the European future that you have chosen and deserve.” 

Washington should endorse justice and human dignity, which justifies support for honest elections and warnings against police brutality.  But Ukraine’s “economic health” and “European future” aren’t American values and are barely American interests.  How would Americans feel if Ukrainian politicians showed up at a Republican rally in Washington vowing to stand with protestors in the name of Ukrainian “interests and values”?

A stable, democratic Ukraine would be benefit all.  However, Russia’s activities in Ukraine do not threaten the U.S.  In contrast, bringing NATO up to Russia’s southern border could not help but be seen as threatening by Moscow—imagine the Warsaw Pact expanding to Mexico. 

The West should acknowledge legitimate Russian interests in Ukraine, while offering new incentives for Kiev to look westward.  Moreover, Europe should seek compromise with Moscow.  Ukraine has proposed creation of “a tripartite commission to handle complex issues,” including greater links between the EU and the Russian-lead CU, which might reduce Moscow’s pressure on Kiev.

If Ukraine wants to look east, so be it.  Even with Russia’s money Yanukovich’s reelection prospects are weak and Ukraine is likely to eventually join the West.  If not, the country never was the EU’s or Washington’s to lose.