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Ukraine Protesters Denounce Russian Cash

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

For weeks, protesters have been camped out in downtown Kiev, furious that Ukraine's government accepted a bailout loan from Russia and reneged on a promise to take Ukraine out of Russia's orbit and into the future with the European Union. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute about the implications of the loan.



Anders Aslund is a longtime Russia watcher. He joins us on the line. Mr. Aslund, thanks so much for being with us.

ANDERS ASLUND: My pleasure.

SIMON: So, what do you make of all these pardons?

ASLUND: These pardons are a typical old practice in Russia and the Soviet Union. But, of course, President Vladimir Putin made a wonderful publicity show of pardoning Mikhail Khodorkovsky and this was totally unexpected. There had been talk about another trial against him. And instead, now he's already in Germany.

SIMON: Let me ask you about what seemed to be, from Mr. Putin's point of view, a productive week. Ukraine's government, after weeks of some wavering, decided not to sign an agreement with the European Union and instead threw in with the economic aid package from Moscow. How do you read that?

ASLUND: Well, I think it's quite a victory for President Putin and also for President Yanukovych. What President Putin got, it was some kind of alliance with Ukraine. And he also got support for his kind of economic and political system, rather authoritarian and not quite run by the rule of law. And President Yanukovych, he got $50 million in a probably quite expensive loan, which means that he can keep going for 15 months more, until he has presidential elections in Ukraine.

SIMON: I'm curious as to why Ukraine seems to be teetering. Because when the USSR split up, a lot of people said this is going to be a country with a lot going for it - almost 50 million people; it was considered the breadbasket of the old Soviet Union; coal, steel. What's happened?

ASLUND: Well, I was there at the time and I didn't think that Ukraine would take off at all. The first problem was that there were no good economic thinkers at all in Ukraine. All the thinking was really done in Moscow. And the other part was political, that Ukraine came together through a coalition of Ukrainian nationalists in the West who wanted to have an independent state and the old corrupt nomenklatura who wanted to stay in power, and in effect they did.

SIMON: Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been camping out in downtown Kiev, calling for change, more of a turn towards the West. What do you make of the protest movement when you have this agreement? Is it the kind of thing that in the West we might see and identify with and therefore maybe exaggerate the strength?

ASLUND: Well, what this is, is not about trade agreement - that's the lesser part. It's about European values. It's about democracy and rule of law. Ukrainians are tired of corruption and poor governance. They want to live as in Europe.

SIMON: You wrote a book in 2009, "How Ukraine Became a Market Economy and Democracy."

ASLUND: Indeed.

SIMON: Ever consider revising the title?

ASLUND: Yeah, if I do a next edition, I would probably change the title and cut out democracy. Right now, Ukraine is on the edge. It's a question of whether it will become a mildly authoritarian state like Russia or whether democracy will come back into a new victory.

SIMON: Do you see that reflected in current events? Is it possible that this is something that will be worked out over the next few months or year?

ASLUND: Yeah. I think so. And there are many things that are very positive in what is happening now in Ukraine. Of course, it's this mass action. It's also self-discipline, self-organization, it's extremely peaceful. Think of it, after one month of protest, not one single person has been killed. And it's also unifying the Ukrainian people. So, people are feeling this is the beginning of democracy. The question is whether it will be allowed to flourish.

SIMON: Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Thanks so much for being with us.

ASLUND: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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