Ukraine: the good, the bad, the irreversible



Ordinary Ukrainians, Euromaidan activists and military veterans are despondent at the complete lack of progress in the fight against high-level corruption and the dominance of Ukraine’s oligarchs, says a prominent analyst. They have no confidence in President Petro Poroshenko’s ability to reduce oligarchic monopolization of the economy and television and bring to justice [former president] Yanukovich and his kleptocratic cronies, the University of Alberta’s Taras Kuzio writes for The Financial Times:

Two years after the Euromaidan, not a single high-ranking official has been criminally prosecuted, thanks to inaction by the prosecutor’s office and police officers and political leaders being allowed to flee the country or go into hiding. Last month, US Vice President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leaders against failing the hopes of the Euromaidan revolution, as they had the Orange Revolution a decade earlier. Biden urged Ukraine’s leaders to fight against the “cancer of corruption”…..

Ukraine’s not-so-post-Soviet “elites” are narcissistic, unwilling to listen, and arrogant. Mychailo Wynnyckyj, a Ukrainian-Canadian professor, said after a recent meeting with Poroshenko, “He clearly was not interested in hearing any opinions other than his own,” and quoted Poroshenko as saying, “Someday you will all realise that I am the best president Ukraine has ever had, and the best of all possible presidents for the present day.”

After nearly two years of war and an onslaught of Russian propaganda, pessimism is high throughout the country, particularly in  the areas of the Donbas region governed by national authorities (Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts), according to a new poll released today by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research. However, despite the war and Russia’s propaganda, an overwhelming majority of Donbas residents in these areas want to remain part of Ukraine, the poll finds:

When asked if the country were headed in the right or wrong direction, only 15 percent nationwide and eight percent in the Ukrainian-controlled territories of the Donbas region believed Ukraine was headed in the right direction.  These findings are consistent with national trends, as Russian aggression in the east has continued to cause great hardship….. 

Despite the war and a continuous barrage of anti-Kyiv government propaganda, a significant 75 percent of Donbas residents in the areas governed by national authorities believed that Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts should remain within Ukraine either with the same status as before (32 percent), with extended responsibilities as a result of decentralization reform (35 percent), or as an autonomous region (eight percent).  Similarly, 72 percent believed that the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (the area not controlled by the Kyiv government) should remain a part of Ukraine.

“Despite Russia’s continued efforts to drive a wedge between the Donbas and the rest of Ukraine and its continued violations of the Minsk Agreement, as confirmed by President Putin himself, the people of Ukraine, including those living in the Ukrainian-controlled areas of the Donbas, want to preserve the territorial integrity of their country,” said Stephen Nix, director of Eurasia programs at IRI [ a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy].  “There is no doubt that Ukrainians long for the unity and sovereignty of their country, and it is critical that the United States and Europe support Ukraine to ensure that Russia’s occupation does not become permanent.”

For outside observers and pundits alike, interpreting the myriad of recent Ukraine-related headlines might be a difficult if not impossible task, says Olga Bielkova (left), a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine).

What can one make of it? she writes for The Huffington Post. To an optimist, healthy debate represents the growing pains of a budding democracy. To a pessimist, this is chaos and a relapse into the old habits. As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle:

  1. The Good…..

Recognizing the media bias toward scandals and disasters rather than victories small and large that are won over time with perseverance and headwork, we have to balance the picture by acknowledging what has been achieved so far:

– Establishment of anticorruption offices;

– The launch of a new police;

– Decentralization of the state budget;

– The new liberal gas market legislation;

– Mustering political will to change energy tariffs despite local elections in the middle of the year;

– Rebuilding of the foreign currency reserves after the Yanukovych administration shamelessly looted the treasury;

– An unprecedented cleaning of the banking system that resulted in a closure of a great number of the so-called pocket-banks and helped restore some trust in the system in spite of major external shocks;

– Meeting all the key requirements for the visa liberalization with the EU;

– The launch of a platform for an open and transparent public procurement (Prozorro);

– Major steps to reform corporate governance of state-owned companies…….

  1. The Bad:

The fight against corruption has not been won, and some will argue that it hasn’t even been fought. Plain and simple, this remains a self-imposed tragedy, where we have no one to blame, but ourselves. In a recent WSJ opinion, Adrian Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council presented the dilemma of the corruption-crackdown: “move too slow and get accused of indulging the oligarchs. Move too fast and the coalition government might crumble.” His assessment is spot on.

Predictably, the old elites are defending the status quo. Some have embraced the change and declared their support of New (i.e. corruption-free) Ukraine. Some even meant it. But corruption, like any other tragedy of the commons, kicks off the race to the bottom, where a few that choose to bend the rules stand to benefit at everybody else’s expense. …..

The worst scenario for Ukraine is to see the new elites becoming disillusioned and losing their will to drive change. The orange revolutions failed exactly for that reason.

  1. The Irreversible:

Thankfully, though, the petty political theater and power-plays pale in comparison to the real tectonic shift in Ukrainian collective psyche. Before Maidan, our nation lacked vision, it lacked identity, it lacked unity. Today, our people share a sense of a common goal and the pride of being Ukrainian. Today, like never before, we are willing to take responsibility for our destiny. Millions of Ukrainians are ready to contribute to their country – be it by volunteering or joining the army, actively participating in political processes and building civil society, working on campaigns or entering public service. The Ukrainian identity is no longer about ethnicity or language – every other person on Maidan spoke Russian. It’s about value and unity of purpose. This is all very new for our country. …….RTWT

“Provided that Kiev accelerates reforms, the West should increase its support,” argues Brookings analyst Steven Pifer:

That means making available to Ukraine an additional $5 to 10 billion in credits and grants to create a margin of comfort for more radical reform. It means providing greater military assistance to help Ukraine defend itself. And it means continuing to press Moscow, including with sanctions, to end its aggression against Ukraine. 

The IRI survey was conducted by Rating Group Ukraine, in cooperation with IRI’s Center for Insights in Survey Research, and was funded by Global Affairs Canada.

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