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February 25, 2014

A New Hope in Ukraine

Though the next steps are uncertain, it’s still possible good will come.

After months of simmering unrest reached a boil last week in the Ukraine, with 82 killed in the capital city of Kiev, protesters gained the upper hand as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fled the city. Yanukovich was rebuffed, though, in his efforts to fly across the border from the outpost town of Donetsk on the Russian border. Reports indicate Yanukovich finally arrived in Balaklava on the Crimean Sea before again attempting to escape via automobile, though his whereabouts remain unknown. A warrant has been issued for his arrest for “mass murder of peaceful civilians.” And while Yanukovich called his ouster a “coup d'etat,” U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice said it was a reaction to “flouting the will of the Ukrainian people.” With Yanukovich absent, the nation’s Parliament took control, installed interim leader Oleksandr Turchinov, and set new elections for May 25.

In many respects, though, the Ukrainians were the beneficiaries of a stroke of luck. As the Ukrainian people wished to embrace the European Union in its effort to bolster a wobbly economy, their leadership was negotiating with the Russians for $15 billion in economic aid. For the average citizen, it was a classic case of fearing the Russian bear, but with the Olympics ongoing in Sochi Russian strongman Vladimir Putin couldn’t pull the trigger on aggressive action to keep Ukraine under control. Opposition leaders admitted that “we knew it was better to act while Russia was hosting the Olympics and had to abide by international norms.” Meanwhile, Rice warned Putin it would be “a grave mistake” for Russia to involve itself militarily.

But now that the Sochi games are history, the war games may begin. Unfortunately, the current U.S. administration is more known for setting and ignoring red lines or for phony resets than for aggressive action to protect its allies. For example, Barack Obama abdicated his responsibilities in Syria, placating the demands of Putin that the corrupt Syrian regime stay in place. Obama doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. As onetime world chess champion Garry Kasparov put it, “if Barack Obama had been president [in the 1980s] instead of Ronald Reagan, I’d still be a Soviet citizen.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that Ukraine was just another satellite in the Soviet orbit, and it appears the people of the nation haven’t forgotten what it was like.

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