United States President Barack Obama just signed Public Law Number 113-95, Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democratic, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014. Here’s three reasons why this is more important than you think.
1. It’s about winning hearts and minds
Ukraine’s infrastructure and economy are largely dependent on cheap oil from Russia for day-to-day operations. Kiev now owes Russia some $1.7 billion for this oil, a dilemma exacerbated after Russia increased the price of gas by an astounding 80 percent. The size of the debt puts a large amount of economic pressure on Ukraine, which is extremely dependent on this Russian oil. The aid package, along with support from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, seek to ease the burden on Ukraine and reduce their dependency on Russia. While Obama is working to increase the export of natural gas to Europe to reduce the power of Russian oil, this bill provides an emergency stop gap as the natural gas exports ramp up. By buying Ukraine room to breathe economically the west is promoting an agenda that will not only make friends within the Ukrainian population but reduce the Russian grip on the Ukrainian economy.
2. It’s about undermining the Russian power base
Make no mistake, this bill is an action against the Russians and Vladimir Putin just as much as it is for the benefit of Ukraine. Putin arguably gets a large portion of his power from just two sources. His inner circle consists of ex-KGB agents and Oligarchs who have flourished under his rule. The former, members of the Russian old guard who are extremely dedicated to a strong Russian identity, will only be swayed through military actions. For a few reasons, a military intervention in Crimea would be bad news for all parties involved. The latter, the oligarchs who have made their fortunes because of pro-western policy rather than despite it, are not-so-staunch in their dedication to a strong Russia. Millionaires like Gennady Timchenko, the man largely responsible for Russia’s massive oil export business, depend heavily on business with the west. Timchenko has been an outspoken supporter of Putin for some time, but has remained suspiciously quiet about Crimea. Economic sanctions like those outlined in the Ukrainian Aid Bill could end up costing men like him tremendous amounts of money, so it’s no wonder that Timchenko and the other oligarchs have remained cold Russia’s move into Crimea. By targeting these individuals Congress is effectively turning one of the most powerful interest groups in Russia against their leader.
3. It’s a great example of uncommon bipartisanship
Any time Washington acts in a bipartisan way, it is newsworthy. The approval of went through the Senate with a 98-2 vote. It then passed in the House with an overwhelming majority of 378 in favor and just 34 opposed. The very same day that the House voted the bill was presented to and signed by the president. This whole process took a mere 30 days from start to finish. This sort of speed is almost unprecedented in the current political climate and demonstrates the efficiency with which the government can act when motivated. Even better, it stands as shining example of team effort in a Congress usually ruled by strong tendentiousness to party dogma. All it took was the invasion of a sovereign nation by an old cold war enemy.
– Dylan Spohn