George Soros, the billionaire currency trader, has been heavily involved in Ukraine for a number of years through the work of his Ukrainian-based Renaissance Foundation. In 2014, when chaos hit the country beginning with protests in Maidan Square that eventually toppled the government, Soros was uniquely positioned to comment on the course of events in Ukraine.
As Soros has written, the February 2014 Maidan protests arose from a restive population that wanted Ukraine to orient itself to a modern, democratic vision connected to Europe. The immediate impetus for the crisis was Russian efforts that “outmaneuvered” the European Union over a proposed EU association agreement with Ukraine.
In the immediate aftermath, George Soros urged European leaders and especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel and to quickly come to the aid of Ukraine. However, he also begged Merkel to work to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin to the table as a constructive partner for the future of Ukraine.
In March 2014, however, Putin annexed the Crimea. Soros and most of the world viewed this annexation as a flagrant violation of international norms and of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
George Soros – Project Syndicate
Instead, Soros began to focus on steps the West could take to shore up the Ukrainian economy and prevent Russian action from destabilizing the political and business structure of the “new Ukraine.” He strongly supported debt relief for the embattled Ukrainian government and repeatedly urged the global community, especially the member states of the European Union, to contribute generously to Ukraine. For instance, at a time when the International Monetary fund recommended a $15 billion rescue package for Ukraine, Soros publicly advocated for a $50 billion effort.
These efforts faltered, although international official lenders provided Ukraine with just enough assistance to stave off a crisis. While financial assistance was hard to cobble together, the international community did unite to impose sanctions on Russia as retribution for Putin’s annexation of Crimea and activity to destabilize the Donbas region of Ukraine.
George Soros expressed decidedly mixed feelings about these efforts. In a January 2015 New York Times op-ed co-written with French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, Soros argued that “Ukraine would defend itself militarily, but it urgently needs financial assistance.” He argued that European sanctions were causing Putin to become more popular with the Russian people Ñ because they allowed him to portray Russia’s economic woes as the byproduct of Western aggression and that they were doing little to deter him from continuing to destabilize Ukraine.
In fact, Soros feared that the sanctions would bite Russia so hard they could cause default. And even if default was averted, Soros believed the sanctions were hurting the countries that imposed them at least as much as Russia.
In short, Soros’ view on sanctions against Russia is best summed up simply: a necessary evil, not a desirable policy option.
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