PARIS -- In an apparent effort to fight bribery with even more overt state-sanctioned bribery, the battle for the hearts and minds of Ukraine has devolved into two suitors -- the West and Russia -- flashing their respective bank account statements. How obscene. I don't recall U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev giving dueling speeches in the Cold War 1980s that made it sound like Poland was up on the auction block in a bidding war at Christie's.
Winning hearts and minds may require more than cash incentives. Just ask the guy with a Ferrari whose girlfriend abandoned him for a guy with a Lamborghini and an extra digit on his pay stub. Ferrari man's only hope for a lasting relationship is for a girl to become dependent on him, to the detriment of her own freedom and autonomy.
Bribing taxpayers with their own money gets politicians elected in the West, only for them to take increased control through greater regulation and taxation once they get into office, thereby enabling even more freebies come re-election time. It usually works until an even more creative con artist weasels his way onto the ballot.
Now it's as if some of the biggest proponents of government handouts -- the Obama administration and the European Union -- are trying to export to Ukraine the worst aspect of our political culture: increased dependence on government.
Some would argue that Ukraine is in no position to turn down any handouts. Wrong. Ukraine is perfectly positioned to insist that aid come in the form of independence and opportunity offered by diversified private-sector joint ventures, because that's what lasts.
The West has somehow switched lanes with Russia, coughing up billions of dollars in loans for Ukraine to counter Russia's traditional trade influence, while Russia has built a relationship with Ukraine based on trade (albeit while threatening to call in Ukraine's gas debt and raise its gas prices).
Granted, the Russian multinationals doing business with Ukraine are state-owned, but that's ultimately unimportant. The West shouldn't be looking to merely settle for an optical tie with the Russians in capitalist practices, and is missing an opportunity to promote its own companies as a revenue-generating capitalist solution to a global problem. The fact that the Russians are beating us at our own game -- evoking Gazprom's key role in the Ukrainian economy while the West wonders how much money we'd have to toss at Ukraine to counter Gazprom's influence -- is embarrassing.