In late 2011, with endorsements from every political party, Ukraine’s parliament agreed to a series of reforms that will face their first test in the coming elections on Oct. 28.
Upon receiving international validation for its 2010 elections, Ukraine immediately went to work reforming its electoral process. Ukraine will even allow international observers to monitor their election process, and the government will have live streaming cameras at the polling stations to prevent election fraud. But President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined by many neoconservatives in Washington, have taken a dim view of Ukraine because of the country’s internal politics. This is a mistake of global proportions.
Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko reneged on her loyalties to the Ukrainian people when her family’s $405 million tab to the Russian Federation came due. Ms. Tymoshenko then signed an agreement with Vladimir Putin that required Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz to buy natural gas from Russia’s Gazprom. The agreement also stipulated a price of $450 per 1,000 cubic meters. Ukrainians currently pay the highest prices in Europe for natural gas.
Tymoshenko broke Ukrainian law to sign this agreement. When her actions were discovered, Tymoshenko was charged with corruption, arrested, and eventually imprisoned. The US and other countries have grown sympathetic to Tymoshenko, especially after she filed a medical complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. Some in the US have called it Soviet-style political payback. But the situation is complex, and we should generally celebrate the punishment of corrupt public officials. The European Court of Human Rights dismissed Tymoshenko’s claims, ruling that she received humane treatment.
Despite the effects of Tymoshenko’s misdeeds, Chevron and British Petroleum are currently working to develop Ukraine’s domestic natural gas supplies. If Ukraine becomes a natural gas supplier for EU member states, this would be a boon to the West and the US. Recall that in 2009, Russia’s Gazprom cut off European gas supplies over a business dispute. Since Gazprom supplies 40 percent of the EU’s natural gas, waves of economic shock subsequently hit the US.
Anyone could miss the significant efforts the Ukraine has made to create an open market economy, with these distractions dominating political discourse. In addition to electoral changes, the Ukrainian parliament reformed their judicial system, replacing the former Soviet Criminal Procedure Code. While the system has suffered from corruption since the country gained independence from the USSR in 1991, the Council of Europe’s Group of States has endorsed Ukraine’s efforts to combat all forms of judicial corruption, especially bribery.
Washington’s support of Ukraine’s efforts to stabilize and reform the country politically and economically could go a long way to helping stabilize energy production and availability in Europe, bring the price of energy consumption down for Ukrainians, other Europeans, and the West, all while providing investment opportunities to Western companies. Washington should take a hard look at its counterintuitive posturing.
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