Billionaire George Soros is heavily invested in Ukrainian activism, establishing a center in Kiev that donates large sums of money to the country’s nongovernmental organizations while advocating closer ties to the European Union.
Last week, Soros weighed in on the Ukraine crisis, recommending EU intervention to help save Ukrainian financial markets.
"The EU, along with the International Monetary Fund, is putting together a multi-billion dollar rescue package to save the country from financial collapse," he wrote in a piece for Project Syndicate.
"But that will not be sufficient to sustain the national unity that Ukraine will need in the coming years. … Ukraine will need outside assistance that only the EU can provide: management expertise and access to markets."
Soros first involved himself in Ukrainian affairs in 1989, when he established the Ukrainian International Renaissance Foundation, or IRF, two years before Ukraine became an independent nation. Since then, Soros has provided more than $100 million to support Ukrainian groups, mostly through the IRF and the Open Society Institute.
Soros’ IRF, headquartered in Kiev, not only supports numerous non-governmental organizations, it holds regular seminars and training sessions for local groups regarding such topics as “open borders” and the transformation of the region via the European Union.
One conference held in Kiev in May 2012, for example, sought to strengthen the capacity of Ukrainian NGOs to absorb EU financial support.
The IRF in 2009 created a consortium of experts to help reform the government and develop a coterie of so-called progressive politicians.
Another IRF initiative is its electronic governance, or e-governance, program, described as “interaction between government and citizens, government and business, and within government using computer networks.”
The IRF partnered with state and U.N. groups in the Crimea to launch a joint program called “Facilitating the introduction of e-governance, electronic democracy and informatization of local government in Crimea.”
A key initiative for Soros’s IRF is removing visa barriers between Ukraine and the EU while integrating Ukrainian experts within EU groups.
The IRF is also heavily involved in what it calls human rights campaigns, supporting numerous local groups and launching initiatives such as a “Legal Empowerment for the Poor” program.
The IRF also runs a program to develop what it refers to as “socially responsible journalists” in Ukraine.
Within the purview of its local work, the IRF supported at least one of the main groups now protesting in Ukraine.
The Spilna Sprava activist organization, which has been central in leading some of the protests, took in a $3,000 IRF donation in 2009. Spilna Sprava, or Common Cause, has been in the news repeatedly in recent days for seizing numerous government buildings.
Meanwhile, Soros’ Open Society Institute in 2012 launched a “Grassroots Justice: Ukraine” project to help "ordinary people assert their rights under the law.”
Also tied to Soros is the International Center for Policy Studies, which bills itself as one of Ukraine’s “top independent think-tanks involved in developing and analyzing public policy.”
Since 2003, the group has been part of the Soros-funded Policy Association for an Open Society.
With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott.