The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is a tragic reminder of the international community’s vital interest in the future of Ukraine. The ability of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to promote national unity and chart an independent course for his government will depend on the country’s economic stability.
As co—chairpersons of the Trilateral Commission’s Russia Working Group, we believe that Ukraine’s dire economic situation calls for the establishment of a Friends of Ukraine task force.
The international task force, comprised of independent leaders from North America, Europe, Asia and Russia, should promote Ukraine’s sovereignty, encourage economic reforms, and coordinate efforts with governments and nongovernmental organizations that seek to help Ukraine at this critical time in its history.
Monitoring groups on the ground determined that Ukraine conducted a free and fair presidential election on May 25, 2014. More than 80% of voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot, and turnout reached 55%, even amid security threats in Ukraine’s two eastern regions. As noted in a preliminary statement by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ukraine held “a genuine election largely in line with international commitments and with a respect for fundamental freedoms in the vast majority of the country.”
Unfortunately, Ukraine’s financial outlook is less encouraging than its political developments, even with all the uncertainties that lie ahead. The country hasn’t seen economic growth for more than two years. Thirty-seven billion dollars disappeared from state coffers during former President Viktor Yanukovych’s tenure, a glaring manifestation of the country’s entrenched corruption at all levels of government. Transparency International ranks Ukraine 144th out of 177 in its Corruption Perceptions Index. Currency reserves are dwindling. The budget deficit stands at 8% of GDP.
Nor is there a national consensus on how to address Ukraine’s economic challenges. An International Republican Institute (IRI) poll revealed that 66% of western Ukrainians consider short-term economic pain an acceptable price for long-term improvements; just 17% of their eastern counterparts concur. Recent polling by an EU association showed similar regional differences.
In this environment, a Friends of Ukraine contact group could facilitate the country’s economic transition in three distinct ways.
First, by promoting an international agenda that recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty, desire for economic development, and ability to choose its own regional and global trade partners. The Friends of Ukraine task force should support Ukraine’s right to make its own domestic and foreign-policy choices.
Second, by encouraging economic reforms. In his inaugural address, Mr. Poroshenko challenged Ukraine to build a European economy, which he defined as an “economy of new ideas, business initiative, hard work, [and] constant self-improvement.” The Ukrainian government has taken steps to address an array of economic challenges such as corruption, unsustainable energy prices and debt, which merit the international community’s assistance. Supporting Ukraine’s anticorruption efforts would lower the risk of economic downturn for both Russia and the European Union, as would a focus on developing an international compact to restructure the country’s debts, providing an institutional foundation for economic reforms, and ensuring access of Ukrainian products and workers to Eastern and Western markets.
Third, by expanding nongovernment initiatives in Ukraine. Despite the compelling strategic and moral reasons for foreign governments to support Ukraine, the unity and sustained commitment to put Ukraine’s economy on a positive trajectory will need to come from nongovernmental actors. Ukraine shouldn’t be a battleground between countries of widely diverging national interests. The task force would provide a vehicle through which western NGOs and their Russian counterparts could strategize and collaborate as part of a unified effort to assist Ukraine’s transition.
In delivering a landslide victory for President Poroshenko, the Ukrainian people cast a broader vote of confidence in the values of freedom and democracy. The international community has an interest and a responsibility to deliver on Ukraine’s aspirations. A Friends of Ukraine task force, leveraging nongovernment resources, would be an indispensable participant in getting this done.
Ms. Dobriansky is a former U.S. undersecretary of state for global affairs.
Mr. Olechowski is a former foreign minister of Poland.
Mr. Satoh is a former Japanese ambassador to the U.N.
Mr. Yurgens is chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development.