A New Marshall Plan for the East

Why Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova deserve assistance from the West

In 1947, Europe lay tattered and in ruins. Great cities lay toppled. Refugees still sought comfort. Ethnic tensions still simmered. The United States’ Marshall Plan was designed to rebuild a prosperous Europe, simultaneously injecting much-needed investment into European countries while also preventing the steady march of communism from beyond territories controlled by the Soviet army. Over a period of four years, the United States invested a sum equivalent to 148 billion present-day dollars in Western and Central Europe, successfully fueling the rapid re-building of Europe and the stemming of ascendant communist movements outside the Soviet sphere of influence.

Today, the West can similarly support the development of fledgling democracy and economic vibrancy in the former Soviet space through a new program of direct financial assistance. Following events in Ukraine over the past nine months, and Russian aggression against the country, a “New Marshall Plan” concept has already gained support among some in the West. In February, billionaire business magnate George Soros published an article that called for German funding of a generous financial plan for Ukraine. Ukrainians proved their commitment to Europe through their sacrifices during Euromaidan, and Germany’s role as Europe’s most powerful country necessitates that the Germans take a leading role in promoting economic dynamism and democracy on the European frontier.

In addition to Ukraine, two other states have pledged their commitment to Europe, even if they avoided a bloody revolution to get there—Moldova and Georgia. A new Marshall Plan must include Ukraine, but should also include other post-communist European states that have not yet successfully transitioned and integrated with the rest of the continent. A new Marshall Plan has the potential to expand European values and promote economic development in a strategically important region of the world.

Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have all suffered at the hands of severe political, economic, and military pressure. Break-away republics in Moldova and Georgia, backed by Russian troops, are a constant source of pressure. Georgia suffered an aggressive war in 2008, designed to intimidate the country’s pro-Western leadership and prevent ascension to NATO. In the case of Moldova, Russia has applied serious economic blackmail against the country’s imports to Russia to dissuade Moldova from signing an Association Agreement with the European Union. Ukraine’s sacrifices for the development of democracy, in addition to Moldova’s and Georgia’s, should be recognized and praised.

A new Marshall Plan for the three Eastern European countries should not be viewed as merely recognition of sacrifices and dedication to democratic values. It is of utmost strategic importance. The tides of war largely receded from the European continent in 1945. European integration, stability, and an inward focus on economic problems have become the new norm. Fewer and fewer Europeans remember the horrors of the Second World War, the brutal spectacle of a large-scale conflict on the European continent. The Balkan conflicts of the 1990s were a temporary reminder. Now, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military operations in eastern Ukraine, aggression and instability has returned to Europe.

A stable, democratic, and prosperous European frontier is very much in the continent’s interest, decreasing the chances for confrontation and unsettling saber-rattling. Ukraine’s economy remains in ruins following two decades of mismanagement, Russian aggression, and conflict. Moldova and Georgia are likewise weak and fractured. Economic weakness, in turn, enhances Russia’s ability to do mischief. Russian threats and intimidation will continue as long as these countries lack the tools to fend for themselves. Russian bullying not only affects the target countries, but destabilizes the entire continent. Over the past decade, the European Union has attempted to interlock Russia’s economy with its own, hoping that mutually beneficial trade and political ties could offset the likelihood for confrontation. Unfortunately, these efforts were all for not, as a corrupt and authoritarian Russian government is more concerned about remaining in power and subjugating its neighbors than conforming to European norms of behavior.

A new Marshall Plan not only has the potential to stabilize countries susceptible to Russian pressure, but also to accelerate change in Russia itself. Putin and his minions reacted so strongly against Euromaidan and democratic aspirations in Ukraine because of the threat that it posed to the regime. Stable, prosperous countries in the former Soviet orbit can accelerate demands for representation and rule of law in Russia itself, as the Russian people see the benefits reaped from more representative politics. Although a stable Ukraine is very much in Europe’s interest, a stable Russia is even more so.

Like the Marshall Plan of the past, the Marshall Plan of the future can go a long way in stabilizing the European frontier, providing important financial assistance in a time of aggression against democratic values and stability. Although naysayers might think that a new financial assistance plan is a waste of funds, the post-war Marshall Plan proved prescient, strengthening democracy and European economies at a time of great uncertainty. There’s enough reason to believe that a New Marshall Plan would do the same.

Chris Dunnett, Ukraine Crisis Media Center