$1 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine? Who are we, Santa Claus?

Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, left, with Secretary of State John F. Kerry and interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at a meeting in Kiev on Tuesday.
(Kevin Lamarque / AFP/Getty Images)
<em>This post has been updated. See below for details.</em>

Congratulations, Ukraine, you just won the lottery! Though, on this side of the world, it looks like we just gave $1 billion in aid to a country most Americans couldn’t find on a map.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry stopped off in Kiev on Tuesday, praising “these brave Ukrainians” who stood up to President Viktor Yanukovich, the deposed leader.

Apparently, though, the “brave Ukrainians” are also the “broke Ukrainians.”

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As my colleague Carol J. Williams reported:


“Kerry announced a $1-billion U.S. aid package to Ukraine and said the International Monetary Fund was working out details of a longer-term plan for rescuing the deeply indebted economy.

“Russia on Tuesday turned up the economic pressure on its cash-strapped neighbor: The Gazprom energy giant announced it was canceling the 30% discount it had been offering Kiev on gas imports because it is owed more than $1.5 billion on previously delivered shipments.”

Now, I’m no math wizard, but if we’re giving Ukraine $1 billion, and it owes $1.5 billion just to Russia’s Gazprom, that’s, hmm, lemme see, 1.5 minus 1, uh, don’t carry the 1, uh: Yep, still broke.

Or, as they say in Kiev: Please, sir, I want some more.

I don’t want to sound naive, but tell me again why are we fighting the Russians over this place? Because it’s starting to feel a little like one of those family fights over who gets to take care of the black sheep brother-in-law with the gambling problem.

Last week it was $460 million to Uganda so it could persecute gay people. Now it’s $1 billion to Ukraine — just to prove to Vladimir Putin that we’re no pushovers.

So unless Ukraine is sitting on massive deposits of, say, oil, gas, diamonds, gold or the Fountain of Youth — well, let’s just say this doesn’t seem like as good an idea as bailing out General Motors. Which at least saved American jobs.

Crimea? How about cry me a river.

I mean, here in America, when the debt piles up in Joe Six Pack’s household, you know what happens? That’s right: Sorry, honey, but I’m cutting up the credit cards. (Of course, that doesn’t happen in D.C., but buddy, Joe Six Pack don’t live on Capitol Hill. )

Americans aren’t stingy. We help people everywhere. Lots of people. But chucking $1 billion at Ukraine right now seems, oh, I don’t know: Stupid? Silly? Business-as-usual diplomacy?

So, Mr. Smart Guy, you ask, what’s your plan?

Well, how about this — and I’m just, you know, spitballing: The Europeans seem to want Ukraine. The Ukrainians seem to want to be Europeans. So let the Europeans pay the Ukrainians’ bills. Let them help Ukraine fix its economy. Let them stare down Putin.

Across the pond, we’ll be rooting for you guys.

We just won’t be paying you too.

[Updated March 5, 10:50 a.m.: Never underestimate the power of the media! On Wednesday, the European Union announced it was preparing a $15-billion package of aid and loans to shore up the economy of Ukraine. For my next trick, I will solve world hunger.]


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