Beware of Americans Offering Help!

If in the time of ancient Greece America had already been discovered and the U.S. existed, the well-known saying “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” would certainly have ended with the addendum “ … and American help.” Smart people have long understood that “friendship with America” is realized in accordance with the formula “admission is one cent, leaving is a dollar,” and America itself will get that dollar for friendship.

But thus far, today’s Ukraine hasn’t understood a thing. As the Ukrainian officers yelled at the Belbek air base, “America is with us!” How much hope was put into that cri de coeur! Downright idiots! By which I mean not only idiots in uniform, but also idiots in civilian clothes, who to this very day continue to yell it from various podiums.*

However, let’s get more to the point. Not so long ago, the U.S. announced that it intended to transfer two old Coast Guard boats to Ukraine within the framework of American military assistance. It hardly needs to be said that all that was left of Ukraine’s naval fleet was a submarine welded to the dock so it wouldn’t sink, a Vinnytsia Corvette that’s eternally in repair, and its flagship “Sahaydachnyy,” whose name resembles the name of a dog breed. But it’s in repair, too. There are a few more boats, but it’s better to live in them near the dock than to go out to sea in them and drown. That even goes for the new Gurza series boats being produced at Poroshenko’s plant. It’s not too bad for boating on the river and doing a little fishing there, but it’s best not to sail on the sea further than 40 cables (4.6 miles) from the shore or else it’ll be more difficult and a whole lot more expensive to pull up from the bottom.

So Kiev could really use such help, even if they are boats that have been scrapped in the U.S. Or else there wouldn’t be a single decent pennant for a heap of admirals, get it? Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense immediately got its hopes up and declared that 30 such boats would be really handy for the Ukrainian navy to have. It hardly needs to be said that the number of admirals would then turn out to be slightly fewer than even the number of vessels in the Ukrainian fleet.

The assistance is also good for the Americans. After all, it’s necessary to dispose of the scrapped boats, to pay to have them cut up, but here are the Ukrainians with their outstretched hand − help us, they say, against the aggressor.** And why not, if you can even get some money from them for it.

What kind of money? Very good money. Some $10 million for the repair of the two boats. So they could reach the Black Sea on their own and also parade single file along the shore.

The Ukrainians sort of threw a fit − our laws don’t allow us, they said, to pay for the repair of boats that aren’t part of the Ukrainian navy. Give them to us and we’ll repair them ourselves here. But the Americans wouldn’t have it: Did you want help? You did. Pay up. And we’ll repair them in the U.S. and the money will go to our workers. You want 30 more such boats? Fine. We’ll transfer them to you on paper and then you’ll pay. At this, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense quietly flowed into a galley bucket. It’s sitting in there now and isn’t gleaming.

If 30 more boats are repaired in the U.S. so they could reach Ukraine, that’s $150 million more one has to dig up. No money? No problem. The Americans will give you the money. They’ll give you $150 million; you’ll give them back $300 million. In the best case for the Ukrainians, $300 million. Maybe more.

The Americans are now helping Ukraine with the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility. The storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will be located not far from the suburbs of the Ukrainian capital.

And the U.S. has already promised to allocate $250 million to Ukraine for the construction of the facility. Quite understandably, companies from the U.S. will carry out the work, for which Kiev will pay the Americans $1.4 billion. It’s all on the up and up. America is with you, dear Ukrainians.

Only don’t think that the Ukrainians will get any of the $250 million. As the saying goes, the marshal has a son of his own.*** American consultants, planners and a diverse contingent of specialists will be paid with that money.

It’s not new technology. In the 90s, that’s how the European Union provided assistance to Russia and other CIS countries through its TACIS program.**** Ninety percent of all the funds for assistance went to pay European specialists who came here to help. It’s a really convenient way of giving jobs to their unemployed. But while the Europeans were mastering this technology — borrowed from the U.S. — of pawning beads off on the natives at triple the price, the Americans themselves were perfecting it and taking it up 10 notches, with a credit yoke around the neck to boot. It would be possible to buy the very same boats, not used but new, for at most half as much as these after the repair. But, you understand, “America is with us,” and the sacred notion of friendship outweighs all the cold financial calculations. Besides, something from the payoff will trickle down to two or three of the land admirals and a couple of the civilians in the Ministry of Defense. And what a surprise that it coincides with the sum of $150 million that the U.S. Congress allocated for military assistance to Ukraine!

By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the boats transferred to Ukraine on paper in the U.S. as part of the Ukrainian navy never make it to the Black Sea, but rather are taken and sunk somewhere in the roaring Atlantic. After all, by then they’ll no longer belong to America at all.

It’s for good reason, though, that Preferans***** players even use the special term “American aid.” And Preferans isn’t played by dumb people.

*Translator’s note: Here the author is making a play on words: The word translated as “downright” is also the Russian adjective for “uniform.”

**Translator’s note: Here and elsewhere, the author is mimicing Ukrainian speech.

***Translator’s note: The author is refering to a Russian joke in which the son of a general asks his father if he will be general someday. “Of course,” replies the father. “And marshal?” the son asks. “My son,” says the father, “the marshal has a son of his own.”

****Editor’s note: CIS stands for the Commonwealth of Independent States, currently including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. TACIS was a program that provided technical assistance to the CIS countries.

*****Editor’s note: Preferans is a card game played in Russia and other European countries.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 199 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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