Rebuilding Ukraine through Development

March 13, 2015 By Zach Silberman

The Ukraine crisis continues to make news in the United States, with most of the focus on military force and our own country’s plans to supply items such as Humvees and small aerial drones. However, operating more or less under the radar as far as the news is concerned, the United States is helping increase the long-term viability of Ukraine through other means: effective civilian development and diplomacy programs.

These programs, coupled with military assistance, could be a game-changer in defending Ukraine.

As the strain of war takes a hard toll on the country’s economy and civil society, economic development and democracy assistance can have a significant impact on building a pro-democracy movement for Ukraine.

Last week, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to emphasize the important use of U.S. civilian programs in alleviating the conflict. According to Nuland, the United States has “provided almost $355 million in foreign assistance … to strengthen energy security; insulate Ukraine’s poorest citizens from the impact of rising gas costs; help fight corruption; strengthen the Ukrainian border guard and military … and to support political reforms, elections and cleaner government.”

To ensure that Ukrainians in the east can receive objective news and information, Russian-language radio, TV and online programs through Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/FL) have boosted their Russian-language programming in recent months to counter the ongoing Kremlin propaganda machine. Overseen by and funded year-round through the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA and RFE/RL have received some additional support for this project from the State Department.

Moreover, USAID is utilizing partnerships with the private sector to address development and business needs in Ukraine. To support small and medium businesses, USAID will “co-finance and co-design three new activities that address long-standing agricultural development challenges in Ukraine,” through the Feed the Future initiative.

In addition to partnerships with the public sector, U.S. humanitarian organizations and businesses are active in helping Ukraine rebuild after the beginning of the crisis in late 2013. IREX, Catholic Relief Services, MWH Global, Save the Children, and FHI 360 are helping Ukrainians suffering from displacement, unemployment, and a weak economy with disaster preparedness and relief, as well as developing the tools to rebuild infrastructure.

As others have argued, providing defensive military aid to Ukrainians is not the only solution to helping their country counter Russian aggression and rebuild from the ongoing crisis. In a conflict as complicated as this one, civilian development and diplomacy programs funded by the International Affairs Budget can have a lasting impact in the quest for peace and stability.