Ukraine’s ‘double existential threat’ – West’s credibility at stake


The West’s credibility and cohesion are at stake in Ukraine, according to a new analysis from Chatham House, the London-based foreign policy think-tank. The international community has invested heavily in Ukraine’s future and spent billions of dollars on supporting the country, while rejecting the Russian claim to primacy in deciding Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment and domestic political arrangement, notes the report, The Struggle for Ukraine.

“A Western policy of benign neglect or, worse, accommodation with Moscow at Ukraine’s expense would seriously destabilize the country, as it remains fragile and in peril,” note the authors – Timothy Ash, Janet Gunn, John Lough, Orysia Lutsevych, James Nixey, James Sherr and Kataryna Wolczuk. “The evidence presented in this report …. makes the strongest possible case for increased Western support, despite – perhaps even because of – Europe’s myriad other problems. Policymakers have less capacity to invest time and effort in Ukraine, but the West cannot afford yet another defeat.”

Ukraine faces a double existential threat, the report suggests:

  • First and foremost, there is the challenge Ukraine faces to ensure its survival as a sovereign state. Moscow’s efforts to undermine its neighbour’s political functioning, to act as a spoiler in Kyiv’s relations with the West, to restrict Ukrainian trade, and to manipulate and corrupt public opinion continue – and the military threat is never far away. Russia would likely find it hard to invade and hold the whole country, but its belligerent interference, if unchecked by Ukrainian and Western resolve, risks doing enough to fragment Ukraine or, at the least, render it a politically diminished client state.
  • Just as important is the fierce contest within the country to decide the type of society and polity that Ukraine becomes in the future: an open, modern, transparent and essentially ‘European’ state with institutions and systems to achieve sustainable economic growth and ensure the welfare of the population; or an inward-looking and sclerotic nexus of insiders, establishment figures and unscrupulous business interests. Popular desire for renewal, allied to weariness with Ukraine’s notoriously high levels of corruption, gives the reformers a strong mandate. But entrenched conservative forces are resisting, with some success.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Civil society and the international community should place as much stress on electoral and institutional reform as on anti-corruption measures, to encourage a break with the old system and allow a new generation of genuine reformers to shape laws and policies. Wider use of institutional exchanges between Ukrainian government entities and EU member state governments will encourage best practice in administration and better policy formulation and implementation.
  • Building public trust is of critical importance. Responsibility for this lies first and foremost with the Ukrainian political class, which needs to convince the population and Ukraine’s foreign friends and partners that there is serious political will to reform the corrupt political system. Civil society can help to do this ‘from the top’, by joining forces with reformers in the legislature and executive. Civil society also needs to work from the ‘bottom up’ to ensure that citizens can engage in their country’s governance and exercise civic oversight.
  • Western donors should integrate requirements for wider popular participation into their grant-making. They should fund projects that build civic support networks. They should promote action-based rather than adversarial revolutionary activism. The expansion of housing associations, farmers’ unions, credit unions, teachers’ associations and business associations would make decentralization of power more effective and local government more accountable.
  • Ukraine’s anti-corruption reformers must communicate their achievements to society and address the perception that ‘nothing has changed’ since 2014. Important progress has been made on reducing the space for corruption, but the Ukrainian public is generally not aware of these changes.


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