‘State capture’ best describes Ukraine’s political system


“Corruption” is an inadequate word to describe the condition of Ukraine. Since the country achieved independence in 1991, the problem is not that a well-functioning state has been corrupted by certain illegal practices; rather, those corrupt practices have constituted the rules by which the state has been run. Ukraine’s political system is best described as state capture, writes Thomas de Waal, Senior Associate with Carnegie Europe:

Since the Euromaidan uprising in 2013–2014, the new Ukrainian authorities have made positive changes in several spheres such as police reform and public procurement. An alliance between the EU and Ukraine’s other international partners, on the one hand, and civil society organizations and some reformist members of the government, on the other, has helped facilitate this progress. However, there is still a poor understanding in wider society of what constitutes corruption on an everyday level. Moreover, the Ukrainian public is increasingly frustrated and cynical, perceiving that much of the old predatory political class has survived into the post-2014 era and that the fundamentals of the old system remain unchanged.

If my Ukrainian interlocutors are correct, the new government will pursue the needed reforms at best only half-heartedly, writes Brookings analyst Steven Pifer:

Among other things, that could leave in place the current system in which oligarchs exercise outsized and unhealthy political influence. That will impede Ukraine’s prospects of getting on the path to becoming a modern European state. 

The International Monetary Fund, United States, and European Union should help the Ukrainian president and prime minister make the right decisions: to press forward a program of genuine reform and, at long last, a real anti-corruption campaign. The West should make clear that further assistance will depend on such actions.


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