Bad News Bears: Ukraine, Russia and the West

No, I’m not talking about the Bruins choking in Pasadena earlier tonight. I’m talking about the Ukrainian government’s decision to balk at the latest Western offer for integration.

Well, at least I think it’s bad. The New York Times has all the relevant information on what happened between Kiev and the West. According to the Grey Lady, Kiev either balked at an IMF offer or had its arm twisted by Moscow. Both scenarios seem plausible, but I’d like to dig a bit deeper.

Ukrainians have been hit hard by this global recession, and last year they elected a government that is much more pro-Russia than it is pro-West. Unfortunately, I think the economy is only a small fragment of what ails the people in the post-colonial, post-socialist state of Ukraine (some people have started labeling “post-” states as “developmentalist” states; I like it but I’m not sure readers would). First of all, here are some relevant maps:

Ethno-linguistic map of Ukraine
2012 presidential election results in Ukraine
Map of per capita income in Ukraine

Notice a pattern? Yeah, me too. Basically, Ukraine is split along ethnic lines between Russians and Ukrainians and instead of recognizing this fact and focusing on property rights reforms first and foremost, the Ukrainians have decided to try their hand at democracy (on the inability of democracy to solve political problems in multi-ethnic states, see Ludwig von Mises’s Nation, State and Economy 72-84).

The conflation of democracy with property rights as freedom has been the single biggest mistake of all societies in the post-war world. From Ghana to Indonesia to Iraq to India to Ukraine, elites have focused their efforts on implementing democracy rather than property rights, and the inevitable, unfortunate results (“dictatorship and poverty”) continue to frustrate me. I’m sure the people who actually have to live under these conditions don’t like it much either.

Wouldn’t it be better if the current Ukrainian state  split into (at least) two independent states? I ask because it seems to me that having (at least) two different states will cut the number of losers in half (losers of elections in “post-” societies truly are losers; it’s nothing like having to “live under” Obama or Bush) and make the new, smaller governments more accountable and more accessible to the people.

The other aspect of Kiev’s rejection of Western integration that troubles my mind is that of the attitudes towards liberalization of Ukrainian society that many people obviously harbor.

For example:

  • Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians overwhelmingly support more integration with the West. There are demonstrations (and I use this term loosely; riots may soon start) against the government’s decision to balk at the West going on right now.
  • And Russian-speaking Ukrainians (being Ukrainian can be either an ethnic thing or political thing [“citizenship”], which just goes to show you how stupid anything other than individualism is, but I digress) overwhelmingly support Moscow.

Yet it seems to me that both sides take the “pro-” and “anti-” stances that they do more out of spite for the other side than out of an understanding of what liberalization actually entails (I base this hunch on my watching of the recent elections here in the US). It’s also not clear to me that a pro-Western tilt would actually lead to more liberalization.

It may be easy for the Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians to integrate and work with the West, but I think the Russian-speaking Ukrainians have good cause to look upon pro-Western deals with suspicion. After all, the Russian speakers are the richest faction in Ukraine, and freer trade with the West  would seriously undermine their political power (why do you think Russian-speaking Ukrainians have all the good jobs?).

Perhaps Evgeniy can enlighten us on the Russian perspective.

If Evgeniy doesn’t have the time you could just read Daniel Larison’s thoughts on the matter (Dr Larison is a historian with a PhD from the University of Chicago who specializes in the Slavic world).

8 thoughts on “Bad News Bears: Ukraine, Russia and the West

  1. Excellent analysis. I agree with Mises’ work on this issue, and think that the desire of the emerging world to emulate the west has caused them to embrace bad democratic systems that strain their development and emphasize fault lines in their cultures (as is the case in Ukraine).

    I’m all for countries splitting up. Let’s strain the state’s power more. Eastern Ukraine is nothing like Kiev or Odessa. Heck, Moldova to the west of Ukraine has its own aspiring breakaway state. Let them all do their own thing and open up new opportunities for themselves and the world. Maybe then I could restore my confidence in depositing some cash in Ukrainian banks at 16% interest.

  2. I’ll write in Russian, so prepare your google translators (don’t have proper words to describe my thoughts in English, sorry)

    Как мне кажется, интеграция с Западом предпочтительнее для Украины. С одной стороны, Россия и Украина – это братские народы, и у нас многие годы была взаимопомощь а также льготные условия для торговли и поставок полезных ископаемых. Но я считаю, что каждая страна в конечном итоге должна идти своим путем, который она выбрала сама. Российское правительство пошло по какому-то странному пути, и сейчас угрожает Украине санкциями, в основном связанными с отменой льгот на торговлю. В принципе это можно понять, так как Украина выйдет из союза с Россией и войдет в союз с Западом. С другой стороны политика запугивания в современном мире не всегда является эффективной. В конечном итоге, украинское правительство имеет свои мозги и должно решить само, что предпочтительнее для Украины.

    В данной сложной ситуации имеет место долгосрочное планирование: Украина должна решить, какое решение в будущем принесет больше пользы, и сделать свой окончательный выбор.

  3. Those are some excellent, striking maps, Brandon.

    Of course, I’m with Mises here that the right of secession ought to extend all the way to the individual:

    But these maps make it a little harder to insist on the sanctity of existing borders, or to reject the already–de facto division of Ukraine and Crimea.

    • Thanks Mike, especially for those Mises quotes. This one in particular strikes me as very relevant to the current situation in Crimea:

      The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars. (Liberalism, p. 109)

      The fact that the Russian state has intervened on behalf of Crimeans yearning to join Russia (or, more likely, distance themselves from Ukraine) obviously complicates Mises’s observation, but not by much.

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