Although it is hard to disagree with the diagnosis stated by Paweł Lickiewicz in his article “Ukrainostan“ from 5 May – that massive corruption, aggressive policy of Russia and the West’s failure would inevitably transform Ukraine into a failed state – let’s consider more optimistic “pre-election” forecasts for the country’s future.
9 May 2014, Warsaw
After the USSR collapse, Ukraine stuck into stagnation and did not experience such a dynamic development as its neighbour Poland, mainly due to omnipresent corruption and unanimous approval of it. Undoubtedly, the corruption was one of the factors why the country’s GDP index didn’t skyrocket as much as it did in Poland during the last over 20 years. However, Kyiv authorities’ excuses are not groundless. In contrast to Poland, Ukraine owes its industry – the basis of its economy – to the USSR. The specific strategy of the USSR economic development included large industrial complexes fulfiling needs of the whole Union, but in practice meant that no product of big significance to the Soviet industry was produced in a single republic from start to finish. The best example is the Ukrainian arms industry, producing components for Russian military equipment while being dependent on supplies of spare parts from Russia. A similar situation we can observe in other sectors of Ukrainian industry.
Irremovable Stigma of Corruption
Ukraine’s economic dependence on Russia cannot be the excuse for high level of corruption, observed everyday in public. However, we should consider sources of this phenomenon. Holding the Soviet education and “soviet” mentality responsible for existing bribery cannot – however truthful it sounds – justify why Ukraine has made the top list of the most corrupted states during last 20 years. The reason for longevity of this phenomenon was the establishment of a classic oligarchic system in the country. After the chaos of the 1990s in Russia, there was a strong government able to restrain and subdue oligarchy – in order to use it for its own purposes – by creating its own system of licensing current people in power. Yet in Ukraine, authorities were never strong enough to counterbalance the political potential of magnates. This is the reason why the actual source of authority and legitimacy in Ukraine is not Kyiv but oligarchic clans. Everyone knows who the local sovereigns are and how many deputies each of them has in the Verkhovna Rada. That’s the way how the real influence on legislative and executive power in the country is gained. Wealth is above law – for a certain price oligarchs can do more than circumvent the law – they can change it.
Such a situation leads to a complete lack of respect for law. All social groups are used to the fact that justice has become an exclusive instrument in the hands of oligarchs, not shared with others. As a result, police are no longer law enforcement officers, but salesmen of law.
The frustration from powerlessness in the face of corruption, paralyzing development of the country, has accumulated in Ukrainians for many years, since the country gained its independence – it only needed a proper spark to set it ablaze. The falsification of presidential elections by Yanukovych on the Orange Revolution’s eve was not incentive enough because it did not give a hope for healing the sick system. A real wildfire was ignited by renegading the promise to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union in November 2013. In the minds of young Ukrainians there was a hope that the association with the EU meant introduction of European standards, which would lead the country to a successful victory over corruption. After all, if not the EU then who else? The dream of country’s Europeanization had flourished in the minds of Ukrainians, especially students, till the moment when it was rudely desecrated on 28 November 2013 at the Vilnius Summit, and then on the night of 29 November – by Berkut on Maidan. Ukrainians had either to emigrate or take power into their own hands. And they chose the latter.
The Foundations Crack
In the period after Ukraine gained its independence, local oligarchs divided the country among themselves, creating thus a convenient political system allowing to own fiefdoms without fear of troubles from the King of Kyiv. Indeed, the King decided not to fight the system, but quite the opposite: to fit into it, creating his own clan called “the Family”. This situation would not have been shattered even by Euromaidan, if not the danger from Russia. As it often happened in the history, the only factor allowing to unify the country could be an external enemy threatening the interests of regional chieftains. The prospect of joining some more lands to the Russian Federation jeopardizes Ukrainian oligarchs, threatened by a potential loss of political influence (in Russia it is impossible to imagine that an oligarch has his or her own people in the State Duma; moreover, the presidential system severely limits political influence of the parliament in contrast with the Ukrainian parliamentary system), fall of their prestige (compared to Russian oligarchs, Ukrainians would be in the second league) and even imprisonment (disobedience in Russia is severely punished, as the case of Yukos Oil Company has shown).
It turned out that the corruption, upon which oligarchy in Ukraine was built, led to the country’s vulnerability to pro-Russian separatists. Corrupted police ceased to obey orders of the Kyiv management, who had previously promised to expose law enforcement officers to lustration. In the face of danger and uncertainty about the future, policemen in the east of the country have decided to wait and see how the situation would unfold, meanwhile supporting those who would guarantee their life quality unchanged. Therefore, they do not react to the assaults of separatists. They consider them counter-revolutionaries, protecting the corrupted ancien régime.
At this stage, political interests of oligarchy and eastern police have diverged. Lines of the “partition” here coincide with the boundary of Rinat Akhmetov’s fiefdom, supporting separation of regions. He is called “the godfather of Donbass” – under his wings such a political force as the Party of Regions and Viktor Yanukovych have thrived. This is the oligarch who would most likely face a revenge from the new authorities. Therefore separatists can freely seize control of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Totally different situation is in Ihor Kolomoyskyi’s fiefdom – the Dnipropetrovsk region. Inertness of police and actions of separatists jeopardized interests of the oligarch who did not want to lose political influence and his position in Ukraine. Therefore, he decided to stabilize the region and prepare it to presidential elections. His initiative created the “Public Authority”, holding meetings in a building of the regional administration renovated with his money. This is a self-governing body, reporting to Kolomoyskyi and formed by NGO activists. The Dnipropetrovsk magnate has also managed to do something unprecedented – unite pro-Ukrainian groups and coordinate their activities. In addition, he created public armed forces, consisting of the National Defense Regiment (about 7 000 volunteers) and “Dnepr -1” battalion (about 200 volunteers). Their task is to protect the region from separatists, which is done by protection of strategic objects and constructed roadblocks (to control vehicles driving to the region and its cities, in order to identify separatists and weapon).
Ukraine Is Not Somalia
Despite the fact that in the pre-election country’s image may be showing traits of a failed state, there are still not enough reasons to draw parallels between Ukraine and Somalia or Syria. First of all, Ukraine is not in a state in a civil war yet, and the state performs its basic tasks. There are several hot spots – Slavyansk, Kramatorsk – which the authorities use to create an image of fight against separatism. In fact, in the state governed by oligarchs (which is especially true for the east of the country), the government is unable to effectively use corrupted structures. Therefore, the showcase of an anti-terrorist operation (called ATO) performed a role of safety valve. From time to time there is an attempt to win back the city seized by separatists, which in case of success is instantly left in order to avoid an escalation of the conflict – such situation occurred after the beginning of the so-called active ATO phase on 2 May.
Although Slovyansk is on the foreground in news reports [on 9 May – ed.note], other territories of Ukraine – both western and eastern – remain stable. While the police is in limbo, it is calm in the streets, shops have no shortage of goods and there is warm water in homes. However, the most important now is what’s ahead of Ukraine. The foundation of the oligarchs’ rule – the corruption – has cracked. General lawlessness, which has weakened the state, for the first time was seen as a serious threat to oligarchic interests instead of a guarantee of political position. Interests of the state coincided with their personal interests. Maintaining its territorial integrity is in the interest of oligarchs – there must be credible and not corrupted structures. The first signs of change in the policy of oligarchs have become noticeable. They started to collaborate with citizens and NGOs. Their former enemies became allies, and the determination of activists has not decreased – it has grown. They realize that at the moment their country is in its infancy and it depends on their determination, if the standards of a new Ukraine are to be rather European than Somalian.
However, the most likely scenario includes limited structural changes aimed at strengthening the state in order to prevent its further destabilization. For this purpose it is necessary to obtain international financial assistance, which should fund the reduction of corruption. In a longer perspective, personal armies need to be dissolved. Everything shows that oligarchs are getting used to the idea that they will partially limit their high-handedness in order to strengthen the state. The success of reforms depends on the ability to find a balance between their ambitions and the requirements needed to ensure stability in the country. If this balance cannot be reached, the country will be losing more regions and will fall deeper into anarchy, hurtling towards “Somalization”.
Translated from Russian by Olga Yatsyna