A flourishing Ukraine would threaten Putin

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The “experts” and the media got it wrong about Ukraine — constant comments about the Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West, as if this was a divide and Eastern Ukraine was for Russia.

We know from polls and the example of recent months that the people of Kiev were overwhelmingly behind, and for, the revolution. Yet if you had visited Kiev a few months ago you would have heard Russian spoken predominantly everywhere you went. No matter that most of these people could also speak Ukrainian. I have been at meetings where several people were discussing some issue and one would speak in Ukrainian and another in Russian and no one thought anything about that. If you could listen to local radio stations in Ukraine, as I have thanks to the Internet, you would be surprised by how many of the callers supporting the revolution spoke in Russian.

To the Ukrainian people this is not an East versus West or Russians versus Ukrainians issue. It is a kleptocracy versus democracy issue. You cannot believe how angry the Ukrainian people are at the Mafia thieves who have been running their country. They want to be what Ukrainians call a “normal” country. It is about self-respect and a better life.

That this worries Vladimir Putin is obvious. His country is a kleptocracy. Polls taken in the past weeks in Eastern Ukraine showed less than 25 percent of the residents wanted to join Russia. In Crimea it was 41 percent.

Crimea is an autonomous republic, meaning it is self-governing. Crimeans run Crimea. If Mr. Putin gets away with detaching Crimea it will not be fatal to Ukraine. But it will encourage him and tell him he can break agreements signed by Russia, violate international laws and suffer no consequences.

The real danger to Mr. Putin is a flourishing Ukraine. If the European Union and the United States can provide real help and support, not just words, so Ukraine can get through the next few critical years, it can become a poster child to the Russians of the benefits of democracy. That terrifies Mr. Putin and his kleptocrats.

Stuart, Fla., and Lviv, Ukraine

The writer is a former reporter and assistant city editor for the Post-Gazette.

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