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    Friday, March 28, 2014

    Ukraine faces hard road to economic recovery

    Smarting from Ukraine’s U-turn towards Europe, Russia is likely to employ every weapon in its economic arsenal to ensure its neighbor’s road to financial recovery is as painful as possible, even when paved with billions of dollars in Western aid.

    After months of anti-government protests and the overthrow of a government blighted by corruption and economic mismanagement, Ukraine is on the brink of bankruptcy, running wide external deficits and a current account shortfall of over 9 percent of gross domestic product.

    On Thursday, the International Monetary Fund threw a financial lifeline, agreeing to stump up $14-18 billion as part of a two-year bailout package in exchange for tough economic reforms.

    The deal, combined with Kyiv’s signing of a cooperation pact linked to closer trade ties with the European Union, represents a serious blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of Ukraine joining a Eurasian Union of former Soviet states.

    Moscow will not make it easy.

    Russia has “the right to use selective protective measures against Ukraine if it creates a free trade zone with a third government, or for example with the European Union,” a Russian economy ministry spokesman said in response to a question from Reuters.

    Ukraine is already feeling some consequences from its break with Russia. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Wednesday the price the country would pay for Russian gas, which accounts for over half of Ukrainian gas imports, would soar by almost 80 percent from April 1 as the seizure of Crimea had rendered a cheaper gas deal obsolete.

    Russia’s Gazprom has suggested a new conflict over gas payments and supplies – like disputes in 2006 and 2009 that halted supplies to Ukraine and onward to Europe – could break out, though it added it had no interest in a resumption of such disputes.

    “The better off Ukraine is under the new government, the more likely it will integrate into the West,” said Nicu Popescu, senior analyst at the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS).

    “So disrupting the Ukrainian transition in political and economic terms is probably Russia’s primary foreign policy goal in the foreseeable future.”

    Putin’s annexation of Crimea, which Kiev and the West say is illegitimate, is likely to push Ukraine’s gross domestic product (GDP) down by 5 percent in 2014, according to Simon Mandel, Vice President for Emerging Europe at New York-based brokerage Auerbach Grayson.

    While the tens of thousands of Russian troops thought to be massed on the border show no immediate sign of entering other parts of Ukraine, Russia has already flexed its trade muscles to upset the Western-backed Ukrainian recovery plan


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