SORTING out the near future of Ukraine might be more Ouija board than political science. Russia’s abrupt annexation of Crimea has everyone wondering what to expect next from President Vladimir Putin.
For all of his bluster and muscle flexing, Putin might be wondering himself. His country has been isolated by global economic forces, and this will be felt at home in the stock market, bond prices and marketing of the country’s one true commercial asset: natural gas.
Russia preserved access to open water for its Black Sea Fleet, and protected a friendly border with its Russian-speaking neighbor.
Putin may have betrayed a measure of alarm with the democratic stirrings and fury over corruption that manifested themselves in February, and deposed his virtual agent, President Viktor Yanukovych.
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The collapse in Kiev was a personal affront for Putin. Grabbing Crimea may have lessened the anxiety, but the price Russia will pay in economic isolation will play out.
Among the unknowns is Ukraine’s own evolution, explains Scott Radnitz, director of the University of Washington’s Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies.
Presidential elections were moved up to this May. A burden falls on the emerging government in Kiev to show it can make economic reforms, and strengthen ties and opportunities with the West, Radnitz said.
On Thursday, the International Monetary Fund approved a loan deal with Ukraine valued at $14 billion to $18 billion. The U.S. Congress has approved a $1 billion loan guarantee that awaits President Obama’s signature.
Radnitz said the central government in Kiev must also bring the country along with laws that respect cultural rights and provide stability.
One element is the introduction of federalism, with local controls and elections of governors and mayors. They currently are appointed.
Can the Ukraine pull this off? The answer shapes the future along with Russia’s behavior.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).