Read the original text at Intersection.
What is going on in Ukraine? This question is on the minds of many people. Are we witnessing the renaissance of the post Orange Revolution situation of 2005, where quarrels among ”pro-European” forces gave the way for the revanche of “pro-Russian” ones? Does it make sense for the West to continue to support Kyiv, or should it focus on other Eastern European countries? Can Ukraine break free from the vicious post-Soviet circle and become one of the distant satellites orbiting the European Union?
Phase one: Revolution
One has to understand that before Yanukovych's rule, Ukraine was a classic corrupted corporate state. State governance was carried out within an oligarchic pattern, which has formed yet in the days of ex-president Leonid Kuchma. The political space was not monopolized, competing clans counterbalanced each other and the elections were competitive. Viktor Yanukovych has broken this model and implemented a criminal one. Hehas also violated most of the existing rules, destroyed the oligopoly, put political opponents behind bars, and bolstered the repressive system.
Maidan was able to stop the country’s slide into this system. Having zeroed in on the power of those who wanted to create a criminal system of governance in the country, it handed leverage back to those who had governed the country before Viktor Yanukovych; to those who were used to life in the framework of a corrupt corporate system of relations and governance. The price the country paid for its return from a criminal system to a corrupted one was more than a hundred of murdered Maidan activists.
Some would say that these two systems are the same. They would be wrong. The difference lies in the fact that the corrupted corporate system is able to evolve. It can be changed by the reforms and anti-corruption legislation whereas the criminal system, but as a rule, it is only able to piggy-back on the state and inevitably perish along with the entire country.
I understand the feelings of those who expected immediate changes for the better after the Maidan. The story of the Ukrainian street protests had a Hollywood-like plot: it forced one to believe in the inevitable happy ending. However, life has little in common with the films. In life, victory and defeat alternates. Moreover, the peculiarity of today’s Ukrainian situation lies in the fact that the revanche of pro-Russian forces is impossible.
Phase two: War
Ukraine of 2016 fundamentally differs from Ukraine of 2006. Ten years ago, disillusionment in pro-European forces which failed to reach a consensus, brought the revanche of pro-Russian parties and gave the way for the victory of Viktor Yanukovych.
This scenario cannot be reproduced under current conditions because of the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the war in Donbas. Parties which used pro-Soviet and pro-Russian rhetoric used to win votes in these two regions. Both regions are now excluded from the Ukrainian electoral field, and pro-Soviet sentiments in other regions of the country would not suffice to ensure victory for the “Opposition Bloc” party in early Ukrainian parliamentary election. The Opposition Bloc might have more popularity, but it would not win.
Populists are one of the main problems in today’s Ukraine. Politicians who give simple answers to complicated questions are popular in our war-torn country. However, any Ukrainian government is dependent on Western aid and therefore talks between the parties are conducted in a “bargaining” mode, whereby subsequent financial tranches can be exchanged for the adoption of vitally important laws. It is important for the prospects of Ukraine, since the implementation of anti-corruption legislation, for example, bolsters the efficiency of the entire system. A key question arises: Why should the European Union do this?
Phase three: Battlefield
Until recently, Ukraine was perceived by Brussels as a buffer zone between the European Union and Russia. Even the celebrated Association Agreement was merely an economic tool; it was supposed to intensify trade, but did not establish political targets. The problem was that Moscow interpreted even partial economic integration of Kyiv with the West as an attempt to invade its area of sovereign influence in the post-Soviet space. Moreover, Moscow viewed Maidan as the West’s special operation against the Kremlin.
The flight of Viktor Yanukovych was followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and invasion and war in Donbas. But it is noteworthy that the Russian leadership believes that the war is being waged not against Ukraine, but against the West: Russian politicians and experts speak of the territory of the neighboring country only as a battlefield. In their minds, Ukraine is devoid of any will and cannot want anything. Moreover, Russian TV networks constantly broadcast information about foreign military personnel fighting in the name of the Ukrainian army while President Vladimir Putin speaks openly about the “NATO foreign legion”.
The West is free to believe that it is not at war with Russia, but this does not change the fact that Moscow believes in the oppesite. In his interview with Kommersant, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia. Nikolay Patrushev, shared a false story about Madeleine Albright allegedly demanding that Siberia and the Far East be ripped from Russia’s grasp. The conspiratorial approach of Russian leadership is demonstrably summarized in this allegation. This should come as little surprise as Russia is ruled by former Soviet security officers and déformation professionnelle is rife.
Moscow makes it clear that, in Ukraine, its adversary is not Kyiv, but rather Brussels and Washington. And therefore the situation where the border between the West and the post-Soviet world ran along Polish-Ukrainian boundary has been confined to history. Right now, this demarcation line runs along the Ukrainian-Russian border.
Phase four: The turning point
The situation is quite simple. Contemporary Ukraine is a big country whose pro-European sentiments prompted aggression from Russia. Russia considers Ukraine a battlefield for the war with the West. Moscow’s task is to destabilize the Ukrainian government as much as possible in order to turn the country into a kind of Eastern European Somalia.
The European Union will not alleviate itself from its headache by relinquishing Ukraine to Moscow. On the contrary, it will only whet Russia’s appetite. If Moscow succeeds and Ukraine falls, there may be another, new round of confrontation, since the Kremlin perceives “the West” as the main threat, and because Moscow desires to be an alternative center of influence to the West.
It is true that Ukraine is corrupt and its elites do not want to leave their comfort zone. It is true that the population of this country is not structured according to political interests and therefore often opts for populists. It is true that Ukraine today is an inefficient state whose authorities hope that loans will be granted simply because Moscow is Kyiv’s adversary. Still, all of this is only natural.
Ukraine is following a very difficult and arduous path. It is now trying to come to terms with itself. It is a country whose civil society is trying to privatize the state and is engaged in fierce competition with the old elites. Moreover, Ukraine does not have a long track record of statehood, which makes its case different from that of the Baltic states or Poland, where the reform process was much faster. Nevertheless, the European Union simply has no other option but to support Ukrainian civil society. If Ukraine fatigue takes over, and the West turns its back on Ukraine, this will not be the end of the story. Moscow will come up with a sequel…