Ukraine In Jeopardy

March 2, 2009

Things are not going well in the former Soviet republic:

” Steel and chemical factories, once the muscle of Ukraine’s economy, are dismissing thousands of workers. Cities have had days without heat or water because they cannot pay their bills, and Kiev’s subway service is being threatened. Lines are sprouting at banks, the currency is wilting and even a government default seems possible.

Ukraine, once considered a worldwide symbol of an emerging, free-market democracy that had cast off authoritarianism, is teetering. And its predicament poses a real threat for other European economies and former Soviet republics.”

Besides being a large and strategically located country in Europe, Ukraine plays a key role in Europe’s energy infrastructure, something that has been amply demonstrated recently as differences over natural gas prices between Ukraine and Russia led to a cut in natural-gas supplies for the rest of Europe, which is dependent Russian gas that is delivered in pipelines that run through Ukraine.

Russia has long opposed the West-leaning Ukrainian leadership that emerged as a result of the Orange Revolution, and political and economic instability will only invite greater Russian intervention in the country.

“t could also cause neighboring Russia, which has close ethnic and linguistic ties to eastern and southern Ukraine, to try to inject itself into the country’s affairs. What is more, the Kremlin would be able to hold up Ukraine as an example of what happens when former Soviet republics follow a Western model of free-market democracy.

‘Ukraine is a linchpin for stability in Europe,’ said Olexiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at Kiev Mohyla University. ‘It is a key player between the expanding European Union and Russia. To use an alarmist scenario, you could imagine a situation in Ukraine that Russia tried to exploit in order to dominate Ukraine. That would make for a very explosive situation on the border of the European Union.'”

This is not a happy (or entirely unforeseeable) development at a time when Western Europe can barely, if at all, handle its own economic woes, and the United States has its hands full with US economic problems and two wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Furthermore, the Americans have their own set of present difficulties with US-Russian relations already.

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