Soros Explains Why He is Exerting His “Utmost Efforts” to Support Ukraine

During a conversation with OSF Associate Director Leonard Benardo at the School of Public Policy at CEU on December 2, CEU Founder and Honorary Chairman George Soros reflected on his long history of involvement with Ukraine, and with Russia. “The situation back then [in 1989] was much simpler. For me, it was black and white,” he said. Soros described the situation in Ukraine today as “extremely complicated.” Although he was not optimistic about how events might unfold in Ukraine, Soros noted that the future depends on decisions that have not yet been made and so he still had hope. 

Soros said that it was the determination of the U.S. and Europe not to get involved that gave Putin the upper hand in Ukraine, and that made sanctions on Russia necessary. He described sanctions as a “destructive solution” noting that when sanctions are imposed, power goes to the hands of those who are closest to the regime. Soros said that sanctions were also “evil” because they were economically counter-productive. They would depress not only the Russian economy, but also the European and global economy as well. He said it would be far better if Europe adopted “a constructive solution” and supported Ukraine.

Soros described the establishment of the EU in 1993 as a “fantastic object” and “the embodiment of an open society.” He lamented its current state but said that he was not willing to accept that it was heading to a collapse. “I can recognize what is happening, but I cannot accept this failure,” he said. Soros said that it was because most people were not aware that the EU was collapsing that he wrote “Wake Up, Europe” for a recent edition of the The New York Review of Books.

Based on his experience, Soros observed that it is often when you least expect it that trends are reversed. He pointed to Myanmar as an example of this, noting that he had been frustrated with developments there for 20 years, but “then there was a remarkable change.”

Soros said that although he had been involved with Russia and Ukraine for many years, he had focused his attention on other issues—until 2013. “Ukraine came back into my vision with Maidan,” he said. Soros described Maidan as “the most important development in this part of the world” in many years.

Soros said that he was a big believer in the new Ukraine in part because it had a lot of energy, just as the EU did in the beginning. “The people of Maidan,” said Soros, “want to be part of the original EU, the one I was so enthusiastic about too.” Soros noted that both Russia and Ukraine had experienced humiliation because of the failure of the EU to provide assistance when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Soros said that the biggest difference between the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the situation in Ukraine today was the presence of an engaged civil society that would not allow the political leadership to play games. Even so, he said that the situation in Ukraine was precarious. “As an investor,” Soros said, “I would bet against it, but as a supporter of open society, I am exerting my utmost efforts to support it.”