In Digest, Media critique, Ukraine

The following editorial appears in the February 23, 2015 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. The Free Press is the only daily newspaper published in the city of 700,000 people. Winnipeg is home to more than 100,000 people of Ukrainian descent, including many Ukrainians who have emmigrated to there since Ukraine’s 1991 independence. Here is an overview from Wikipedia of the history of Ukrainian people in Canada.

The agony of a collapsing nation

Editorial, Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 23, 2015

‘There can be no normal relations with Russia until Mr. Putin is gone…’

Former building of Winnipeg Free Press

Former building of Winnipeg Free Press

Ukraine is bleeding everywhere. Its troops are no match for the Russian-backed rebels who are surging ahead with plans to sever the country’s eastern territories, world opinion and a fake ceasefire be damned. Its economy is failing, the currency has crashed, inflation is soaring, corruption is rampant and austerity measures are devastating the working classes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the mastermind of this agony, is riding out the storm and the sanctions that are wreaking havoc with his own economy and people. It’s a form of Great Power bullying that hasn’t been seen since the 1930s.

Back then, it took a world war to topple tyranny. Today, everyone seems to agree there is no military solution when confronting a country like Russia operating in its backyard.

American hawks are demanding Ukraine be armed with sophisticated weapons so it can fight back and defend itself.

U.S. President Barack Obama should avoid that reckless war cry, which will only ensure more bloodshed. Nor is there the slightest reason to believe the latest technology or the biggest tanks and guns, in the hands of Ukraine’s demoralized and ineffective army, would change the course of history.

The American military is training a few battalions of Ukrainian troops, but it seems like a token gesture meant to assuage those who are demanding action, or at least the appearance of action.

Canada and other democracies have announced new sanctions to punish Russia for breaking the latest ceasefire, but they, too, seem like token measures in response to the latest outrage. Sanctions imposed over the last year have hurt Russia, but probably not as much as the decline in oil prices.

Canada’s sanctions against Rosneft, for example, are a mere inconvenience for the Russian energy giant. The firm does considerable business in Canada, which no one wants to interrupt.

The International Monetary Fund recently announced another $17.5 billion in loans, with a promise of more in the future.

Most of the money, however, is long-term, and it comes with strings attached. It is intended to stabilize the country’s financial situation, rather than preserve existing social programs.

Ukraine, for example, has agreed to increase the cost of gas to consumers by 280 per cent. Inflation is expected to reach about 25 per cent later this year. The IMF and the World Bank are simply not prepared to hand over wheelbarrows of cash without a guarantee Ukraine will reset its famously corrupt economy.

In the short term, however, the West should worry about the possibility of extremism and civil unrest if economic reform destroys savings, weakens cherished social programs and reduces an already low standard of living.

Ukrainians need real financial assistance that will strengthen their bond with the West and raise the quality of life. These are developments that would strike directly at Mr. Putin and his goal of impoverishing a western-oriented Ukraine.

Mr. Putin is determined to create a new arrangement in eastern Ukraine, including acquiring a Russian corridor to Crimea, which he annexed last year. His methods are similar to those used to separate Georgia from one of its provinces, another land grab the world decided it could not halt or reverse.

Mr. Putin may say he has no other territorial ambitions, but we’ve heard that line from other dictators in the past.

The path forward, then, is clear, if not pretty. Ukraine should be given the economic aid it needs to thrive and prosper.

And sanctions and diplomatic isolation should continue long into the future against the man with the iron fist.

There can be no normal relations with Russia until Mr. Putin is gone and he is replaced with someone who recognizes territorial aggrandizement is no longer a path to greatness and wealth.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

 

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