Global Pairings

Ukraine, the West and a Dead End

What the West must do so that a reformed Ukraine can survive in the face of a continuing Russian threat.


  • As long as Ukraine’s security issues are unsolved, the reformers’ achievements can also be meaningless.
  • The West’s approach to Kyiv is plagued by a strategic defect.
  • Is the West making Ukraine ever more threatening to Putin and his peculiar political system?
  • It is essential for Ukraine to be embedded into a sufficiently strong international structure.

The continuing Ukrainian reforms and, in particular, slowly returning economic growth have started to demonstrate first real-life effects of Western help to Kyiv.

Yet, as long as Ukraine’s security issues remains unsolved, the reformers’ achievements to date can also become meaningless.

That is because the Kremlin is and will be determined to do everything in its power to prevent Ukraine from becoming a success story.

An efficacious reform there would be a most unwelcome reminder to Russians that an Orthodox and Eastern Slavic post-Soviet country — rather than commiserating forever in the way things are, as if it was some kind of fated order — can actually clean up its act.

Another Marshall Plan at work

The term Marshall Plan is seldom used (and usually to be avoided as it raises surreal hopes of aid). Yet, the current level of Western support for the stabilization and reform of Ukraine actually amounts already to an equivalent of the U.S.’s post-war European Recovery Program (the technical name of the “Marshal Plan”) for a country like Germany.

The sums to date provided or earmarked by the IMF, World Bank, EU and Western countries are large and keep growing.

While the enormous European and American help now flowing into Ukraine is by itself to be welcomed, the West’s approach to Kyiv is plagued by a strategic defect.

The EU, United States, Canada, Switzerland and other Western donors are helping to completely reshape the Ukrainian state and economy.

Yet, they are thereby making a gradually recovering and succeeding Ukraine ever more threatening to Putin and his peculiar political system.

Russia as a spoiler

Europeans seem to quietly hope that Putin won’t force their hand – and that he will let economic and other reforms in Ukraine proceed without having his military, paramilitary, cyber and other forces intervene in the process. Yet, this could be a miscalculation.

In a worst-case scenario, the support which the Europeans and other nations and organizations are now providing Ukraine with could ultimately be for naught.

European denialism

As much as many Europeans would like to run away from this point, ultimately first things ought to come first: Until Ukraine’s fundamental security challenges are not met, the principally laudable Western reform support may be useless or even paradoxically counter-productive.

Unless Ukraine is embedded into a sufficiently strong international structure, Putin or his successor will remain free to react to future Ukrainian achievements the way they prefer.

And for as long as the kleptocratic Russian elite perceives the political costs of interfering in Ukraine as relatively low, Moscow may be unable to resist the temptation to use its vast manipulation potential.

The Kremlin will be keeping its escalation dominance to disrupt, if it wishes, Ukraine’s social stability by this or that mean.

If more interventions by Moscow come?

The West therefore has to think seriously and quickly – before it is too late – about an uncomfortable question: How to increase the stakes, expenditures and risks for the Kremlin of a possible new Russian intervention in Ukraine?

Western states and organizations need to create a situation in which Putin & Co. start considering the vagaries of novel escalation and manipulation in Ukraine.

Ideally, such a new state of affairs will be sufficient to change Moscow’s calculus. It should make the Kremlin understand that the external costs of new interventions exceed the domestic perils that successful Ukrainian reforms may pose for the Russian regime.

The following measures could have a signaling power toward Moscow and contribute to securing the Ukrainian reform process:

  1. Kyiv should be either provided with advanced defensive weaponry of sufficient quality and quantity, or be enabled to produce itself such weapons in joint ventures.
  2. The two Western Budapest Memorandum signatory states (US, UK) should regenerate, specify and elaborate the “security assurances” they gave Kyiv in 1994.
  3. The West should support Ukraine in building a regional coalition of the willing (“Intermarium”) with countries like Poland and Romania that, out of their own narrow national interest, have a fundamental stake in the stability and survival of the Ukrainian state.
  4. And the EU could send the Kremlin already now a list of possible future legal measures, financial sanctions and economic boycotts which it would enforce, if Russia advances further into, or otherwise destabilizes, Ukraine.

Once the Kremlin calculation of the costs of further escalation in Ukraine changes, Western help and assistance to Kyiv will have a more sustainable basis and deeper impact. Ukraine will get a serious chance to become a “second Poland” (in terms of economic reforms and success).

In the opposite situation, the Kremlin may well decide one day to trigger, in one way or another, a collapse of the Ukrainian state.

Such an event might be highly beneficial to the short-term stability of Russia’s current political regime. Yet it would have repercussions far beyond the borders of Ukraine.

The EU’s security calculus: More refugees?

Especially, the EU has ample reasons to be more than just a silent, well-wishing bystander. It has its weighty reasons to show already some real muscle.

For instance, an implosion of the Ukrainian state could mean that the EU will have to deal with millions of Ukrainian refugees flowing into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania – and heading further west.

Moreover, Ukraine’s four nuclear power stations may end up in insecure hands or regions. A breakdown of the territorially largest fully within Europe located state would create a whole array of additional grave security issues along the EU’s eastern border.

All of which is why making Ukraine more secure and less vulnerable to future subversion by the Kremlin is in the vital interest of all European nations (including the Russian people, if unfortunately not its leadership).

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About Andreas Umland

Andreas Umland is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Kyiv.

Responses to “Ukraine, the West and a Dead End”

Archived Comments.

  1. On January 4, 2017 at 2:55 am Arrow responded with... #

    Ukraine is yet another sad example of the failed policy of orchestrated regime changes, just like Iraq, Syria, Libya. Given the brutal internal ethnic conflict, the only possible way for Ukrainian state to stay is to get (con)federalized along the ethnic lines.

  2. On January 4, 2017 at 3:07 am Doom Sternz responded with... #

    In spite of what this article say’s the Maidan demonstrations, also called the “revolution of dignity” was an armed coup, extremely violent and spearheaded by Right Sector militants, who willingly placed the US appointed Yatsenyuk into power along with the US supported Neo-Nazi political front Svoboda. What followed were fraudulent elections where ethnic cleansing and genocide predictably yielded a pro US and pro EU client regime.

    Its no coincidence that Victoria Nuland had invested $5 billion on a regime change in Ukraine and its no coincidence that the CIA was in Kiev to ensure that the regime change occurred. Its no coincidence that the US Rand Corporation documented the necessary steps to genocide the eastern federations prior to the events and its no coincidence that neo-Nazi organisations were enlisted to action the genocide.

  3. On January 4, 2017 at 3:14 am Doom Sternz responded with... #

    Andreas Umland knows bugger all about the reality in Ukraine………………

    Without the DPR/LPR Ukraine would be sent into a war against Russia by Obama. A war they cannot win, with millions of victims. Obama wants the Russian World to wage war against themselves.

    In the Donbass they are fighting for the Russian World which includes Ukraine. Once you see this geo-political perspective you will understand Putin’s and Obama’s positions better. Crimea was strategic and historically Russian, it had to be returned to Russia no matter what the cost. However the DPR/LPR cannot be annexed because Obama will send Ukraine into a war against the Russian World. The Donbass is a buffer against a war with Russia, Putin is doing everything he can to ensure a war in the Russian World does not occur.

  4. On January 4, 2017 at 3:15 am Doom Sternz responded with... #

    Andreas Umland knows bugger all about the reality in Ukraine………………

  5. On January 4, 2017 at 12:03 pm Karol Czenko responded with... #

    Andreas Umland knows a lot about Ukraine. He also knows about the West, which you don’t. Unilateral annexation of another country’s territory – a country Russia hitherto regarded as ‘de jure’ sovereign – is ‘rogue’ behavior, and Putin’s Russia is a rogue state. No country has unilaterally annexed the territory of another in Europe since Hitler was terrorizing the continent. Russia is grotesque, as is the ‘Russian World.’

    Why don’t you concentrate on building indoor plumbing for all the outhouses around that sprawling dump you call a ‘great state’? Why don’t you build a continuously-paved road connecting Moscow to Vladivostok, so people can drive there in comfort instead of negotiating dirt and pot holes? Why don’t you do something about the fact that more ISIS fighters and radical Islamic terrorists come out of the Russian Federation than out of any other non-Muslim-majority country? Is Putin doing anything to stop these people going abroad, or is he just bombing them in Syria? You have a president in Chechnya who’s on video in a gang slitting the throats of captured, young Russian conscripts like slaughtering goats for ‘halal.’

    ‘Russian World,’ my ass. Take your ‘Russian World’ and stick it where the sun never shines.

  6. On January 4, 2017 at 9:38 pm Andrey Yatsunenko responded with... #

    Total lie.

  7. On January 4, 2017 at 9:39 pm Andrey Yatsunenko responded with... #

    Wet dreams about Russian World? Stalin forever?

  8. On January 4, 2017 at 9:41 pm Andrey Yatsunenko responded with... #

    Man, you forgot 3-4 more moronic cliches of RT and ORT.
    Try harder to be paid.

  9. On January 5, 2017 at 7:59 am colchuck responded with... #

    Regime change by Victoria Nuland and Obama was doomed to failure from the start.

  10. On January 5, 2017 at 12:33 pm Josh responded with... #

    Best article I’ve read in a long time.

    Ukrainians are used to this “brotherly love” from Russia. They have survived worse and will survive this too.

    It never ceases to amaze me how everyone in the world doesn’t understand these basic facts.

    Ukraine is not Russia.

    Ukrainians want no part of Putin’s system and rose up before it was too late.

    Because of Putin, Ukrainian patriotism has been reborn like never before, Crimea and Donbass might be gone but Putin has lost Ukraine for at least 2-3 generations if not longer.

  11. On January 5, 2017 at 5:07 pm jonasion responded with... #

    Great article and nice to see real points of action laid out. As an expat living in Ukraine who was here during Maidan, I can only agree and support any EU and Western support. Ukrainians decided for EU and rejected the idea of Russian influence and dominance.
    The negative comments above/ below are paid-for-trolls by the Russian propeganda apperatus. Ignore it and them. Bring Ukraine into Europe, and protect Europe from another failed Russia satellite-state.

  12. On January 5, 2017 at 8:51 pm WorldCommenter responded with... #

    No! The only way is for those “ethnic groups” that do not want to be in Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens to emigrate to the country they want to be citizens of. Russia under the Tsars and Communist move ethnic populations around to cause this type of national sovereignty issues and that behavior should not be rewarded by having land forfeited to ethnic transplants.

  13. On January 6, 2017 at 4:07 am Arrow responded with... #

    Not that I think that a fascist advocating ethnic cleansing deserves an answer, but for those who might be deceived by this lie – Russians were the first to settle in this area in the history of humankind. Before that it was roamed by nomads and had a name “Wild Field”. After all these lands had been transferred to Ukraine by the bolshevik dictator Lenin, they were subject to forceful ukrainization by the communist rulers. But even nowadays the mother tongue of 2/3 of Ukrainian population is Russian.

  14. On January 6, 2017 at 4:16 am Arrow responded with... #

    Is it this reborn patriotism that makes Ukrainians flee to Russia in millions and seek jobs there? Money transfers from Russia is the biggest source of income for Ukrainian families despite all the regime’s anti-Russian propaganda and hate mongering.

  15. On January 6, 2017 at 4:23 am Arrow responded with... #

    Totally true, actually.

  16. On January 6, 2017 at 4:28 am Arrow responded with... #

    Funny, but it’s under the pro-Western regime Ukraine reached the status of a failed state.
    Destroyed economic relationships with its biggest trade partner – got its economy ruined.
    Started the civil war against those who protested the illegal coup – had tens of thousands killed, millions of refugees.
    Had nothing to blame but your own stupidity.

  17. On January 7, 2017 at 8:10 am Henk Crop responded with... #

    I think Ukraine is not ready to join the EU and the EU has already too much troubles of its own to welcome another member The best solution for everybody is a neutral Ukriane, like Finland. So the EU, the US and the Ukraine, should make a deal with Russia. Ukraine will then be able to invest in its economy instead of in a big army. Russia and NATO will keep distance on their borders. The EU and Russia can support Ukraine in becoming a stable country.

  18. On January 7, 2017 at 4:24 pm jonasion responded with... #

    – 9-10k killed, not “tens of thousands” you make it sound like a lot more. And it is really inaccurate. Not arguing with you who’s to blame, because that has more to do with the croonies in power previous than the will of the people of Maidan.
    – Millions of people on the run? Dude, try somewhere between 500k-900k at the most, and here in Kiev I’ve seen the prices go up as a result of it.
    – A coup is per definition illegal, until the people accept the change of power. The president is a real president, although I’m sure most people would prefer a different one today, seeing as he’s not cracking down on corruption as he should, another promise of Maidan.
    – Economic relationship with the biggest power? Russia? Try a “partner” that charges too much for energy prices, and once the shackles of Putin’s Russia is thrown off, he invades the country and takes Crimea. And then he invades Eastern Ukraine and instills permanent violence and upset there.

  19. On January 12, 2017 at 9:54 pm WorldCommenter responded with... #

    Kyivan Rus, with its capital in Kyiv, Ukraine, controlled this are in the 10-th and 11-th century long before there was a Duchy of Moscow or Russia. Kyivan Rus Grand Prince Volodymir the Great was baptized in Crimea, which was part of his domain in 988. Prince’s of Kyivan Rus had dominion over principalities in what is today Crimea and Taganrog in the 10-th century. So your “wild fields” with no one living there is not correct.
    After Russification of Ukraine from the 14-th century to the 20-th century and mass exile of Ukrainians to central Russia you do have a lot of transplanted Russians living in Ukraine, that DOES NOT MAKE THEM THE NATIVE POPULATION. For almost 600 years you had to speak, read and write RUSSIAN or you were relegated to a second class citizen, serf or slave. So most people used Russian to survive in the Tsarist Russian Empire.