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Ukraine a test for the world

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Smoke rises outside Donetsk International Airport in Donetsk, Ukraine, on May 26, after pro-Russian separatist rebels seized the facility. The Ukrainian military launched an offensive to recapture the airport, bringing in combat helicopters and warplanes.

EVELYN HOCKSTEIN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Enlarge Image

Smoke rises outside Donetsk International Airport in Donetsk, Ukraine, on May 26, after pro-Russian separatist rebels seized the facility. The Ukrainian military launched an offensive to recapture the airport, bringing in combat helicopters and warplanes.

Ukrainians elected billionaire Petro Poroshenko as their fifth president this week. Despite being an oligarch, he stood on EuroMaidan protesting the corruption of former president Viktor Yanukovych. Bravo to its citizens for standing their ground, coming out in large numbers, and categorically denying Russian President Vladimir Putin the control of Ukraine he craves.

The battle is far from over, however. Despite promising the election wouldn't change his relations with Ukraine, Putin's sniper unit Vostok, known for its extreme brutality, attacked Donetsk airport the next morning. Eventually, Ukraine's defences overpowered the terrorists, but other battles are erupting and convoys of Russian trucks and ships are approaching Ukraine's borders. Was the victory in Donetsk designed as a pretext for an all-out war?

Cleaning out nests of Russia's terrorists is president-elect Poroshenko's first test. He must bring calm and order to Ukraine. In his post-election speech, he promised anti-terrorist reinforcements, but the terrorists are using Ukrainians as human shields. The challenges are daunting: Poroshenko must keep the Russians out, yet avoid the bloodbaths used by Putin to win in Chechnya.

The West, too, is being tested. Although Putin's insistence that Ukraine not join NATO has limited western leverage, this is a key bargaining chip. Russia must withdraw its terrorists or Ukraine's membership could become a fait accompli. NATO's potential involvement notwithstanding, it would be prudent for Poroshenko to convince friends such as Poland, Latvia, Slovakia and others to join Ukraine in creating a distinct FOF -- force of friends -- to provide a military and psychological counterweight to Russia's avarice for sovereign territories.

Perhaps Britain might be persuaded to use its considerable expertise in fighting international terrorism. After all, the Kremlin is most interested in a disrupted EU. The U.K. is a good link into the U.S., Canada, Australia and others that are not fooled by the Kremlin's rhetoric and claim it is seeking peace while fomenting chaos.

The second test for Poroshenko is a vibrant economy. Ukraine was the economic motor of the former U.S.S.R. Its considerable potential can be readily realized with honest leadership. Much groundwork for reform has already been done. Signing the EU Association Agreement, with its reform package, is of highest priority. Loans from international entities such as the IMF, and contributions from the EU, U.S. and Japan are necessary to restart Ukraine's economic recovery.

Invigorating Ukraine's economy means ending corruption. The new president needs to separate business from politics by requiring oligarchs -- most are both politicians and owners of huge industrial complexes -- to chose one or the other. Currently, this duality is loaded with opportunities for conflict of interest, particularly the ability to protect astronomical personal profits from taxes. In 2013 alone, offshore money was estimated to be greater than the size of Ukraine's entire 2013 budget of around $8 billion.

Poroshenko aims to set an example by selling his chocolate business to eliminate perceptions of conflict of interest. Meanwhile, the international community's sanctions against Ukraine's oligarchs, including Yanukovych and his inner circle, have frozen their assets. These will revert to Ukraine, adding billions of dollars to its budget.

However, given Putin's post-election bad temper and strong suspicion that he wants chaos to ensure, at a minimum, a strong negotiating position on Ukraine's future, it is mandatory for the West to do more. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in his statement following the elections: "We remain ready to intensify actions against those who persist in their assault against the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity." This means putting Russia on the world's list of terror-exporting states like Syria and Iran, as well as implementing economic sanctions against key sectors such as banks and energy. For emphasis, add Putin and company to the personal-sanction lists. Reported to hold some $40 billion in personal assets, managed by an insider circle of cronies, he is the main offender. Without such bite, western sanctions are but irritants to be laughed off while global criminality on a scale the world has hardly seen before disrupts law and spreads terror and death.

The West's mushiness toward Russia is amply demonstrated by the shameful invitation to Putin to participate in the D-Day celebrations in Normandy. The historic event is designed to underscore that the horrors of the Second World War will never happen again. He is the instigator of new conflicts and atrocities. He must be disinvited. Instead, honour the accomplishments of the Red Army by inviting Ukraine's new president. After all, it was Ukraine's First Red Army Division that marched in to liberate Berlin.

Ukraine is a test for the world. They are doing their part. We must do ours.


Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is a Canadian international opinion writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2014 A9

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