Why this Ukrainian ‘revolution’ may be doomed, too

May 17, 2015
U.S. serviceman trains Ukrainian soldiers during joint military exercise in Yavoriv

A serviceman of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (R) trains Ukrainian soldiers during a joint military exercise called “Fearless Guardian 2015″ outside Lviv, Ukraine, May 12, 2015. REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko

Ukrainians may be eager to shed their Soviet past, but an old joke from Communist times is making the rounds in Kiev these days. “How’s it going?” a man asks a friend. “Why are you asking?” he replies. “We live in the same country.”

Most Ukrainians wanted their country to be different by now. Even those who didn’t support the Maidan protest two winters ago were fed up with living in Europe’s most corrupt country. When then-President Viktor Yanukovych fled office after the demonstrations turned bloody in February 2014, the civic activists behind the protest movement hoped to turn their country from a dysfunctional kleptocracy into a rule-of-law democracy worthy of European Union membership.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stealth annexation of Crimea and his sponsorship of an insurrection in eastern Ukraine imperiled the country’s reform drive from the start. Despite the Kremlin’s intervention, Ukrainians elected a new president, Petro Poroshenko, followed by a new parliament with a strong mandate for change. Now frustration is growing about the pace of reform — not only domestically but among the country’s biggest backers abroad. If it isn’t torn apart by war, Ukraine risks slipping back into a gray zone between Russia and Europe. The pro-reform Orange Revolution nine years ago ended in squabbling among its leaders, opening the way to Yanukovych’s election as president in 2010.

At home, there is the possibility of more protests, a paralyzed government, and the rise of politicians seeking accommodation with Putin. “Slow and unsuccessful reforms are a bigger existential threat than the Russian aggression,” said Oleksiy Melnyk, a security expert at Kiev’s Razumkov Center. Even if Ukrainians don’t return to the street, they’ll get a chance to voice their discontent at the ballot box. Local elections are due in the fall — and the governing coalition between Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is so shaky that nobody can rule out an early parliamentary vote.

In its international relations, Ukraine is living on borrowed time — and money. A dispute over restructuring $23 billion in debt broke into the open last week with the Finance Ministry accusing foreign creditors of not negotiating in good faith ahead of a June deadline. An EU summit this week is likely to end in more disappointment, as Western European countries are reluctant to grant Ukrainians visa-free travel.

Kiev has become an accidental, burdensome ally to the West. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization only paid lip service to future Ukrainian membership, while the EU, which never had any intention of taking in Ukraine, pushed an association agreement out of bureaucratic habit more than strategic vision.

When Yanukovych backed out of the EU deal at the last minute after coming under pressure from Putin, the first protesters showed up on Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, in November 2013. Ordinary Ukrainians were holding up the “European values” that feckless EU leaders trumpeted at every opportunity. For Western Europeans who take their freedom, prosperity, and security for granted, the bloodshed on the Maidan was a rude awakening. Today, people in Kiev remind visitors that Ukrainians were the first Europeans to die under the EU flag.

Larger in area than France and almost as populous as Spain, Ukraine is hard to ignore. But saddled with its own tests of internal unity, the EU would be more than happy to forget about its troubled eastern neighbor. The challenges facing the Kiev government are enough to give anybody a headache, and Poroshenko has repeatedly warned that a string of bad news could lead to “Ukraine fatigue” in the West. Plenty of Europeans miss the status quo ante — before the imposition of sanctions on the Kremlin — when Russia was open for business and Ukraine’s raison d’être was delivering Siberian natural gas via its pipelines.

Ukrainians now worry that following the German-brokered Minsk peace agreement, the conflict in the east of the country will enter a new phase — not hot enough to be called a war but explosive enough to divert resources and scare off foreign investment. The threat of fascism was always a hobgoblin created by Kremlin propagandists; the real danger facing Ukraine is getting stuck in the dysfunction of the past. The brazen murders of pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzyna and former Yanukovych ally Oleh Kalashnikov in April are indicative of a government that is unable or unwilling to protect its critics.

A lack of professionalism among civil servants is one of Ukraine’s most pressing problems. Minuscule salaries have kept the country’s best-trained professionals out of government — and where Poroshenko can’t find domestic expertise, he’s recruiting foreigners. Georgians, who implemented their own radical reforms 10 years ago, are disproportionately represented in the Ukrainian government: as health minister, deputy justice minister, deputy general prosecutor, and deputy interior minister. The Finance Ministry is headed by Natalie Jaresko, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants to the United States. “I’d argue that the past 15 months have seen more reforms than the previous 23 years,” she says.

The government’s to-do list is truly dizzying: energy, anti-corruption, constitutional, administrative, financial sector, regulatory, judicial, law enforcement, pension, tax, and civil service reforms, to name a few. Reforms dealing with public finances have taken priority because of the demands of international lenders, while improvements in rule-of-law are moving “very slowly,” says a European diplomat in Kiev.

The much-publicized energy reform is designed to slash dependence on Russia, reduce subsidies, and cut out middlemen. As a result, natural-gas prices for consumers are going up 450 percent. “It’ll get interesting when people receive their utility bills,” says journalist Valeriy Kalnysh.

Kalnysh allows that Ukrainians may be expecting too much, too fast to appreciate the changes being made. But less than half of the reforms planned for the first quarter have been addressed, according to Kalnysh. “The window for reforms is closing,” he says. “The unfulfilled tasks will snowball.”

The least charitably inclined claim that Poroshenko prosecuted the war in eastern Ukraine as a way of delaying reform. What’s undeniable is that the shaky ceasefire leaves the Kiev government at the mercy of Putin and his proxies. Should anything start going right for Poroshenko, the fighting could flare back up at any moment.

Ukrainian security officials say that the enemy forces gathering in the separatist regions are at their highest capability yet. The most alarming observation is that the once ragtag band of rebels — backed up by regular Russian troops in critical battles — is increasingly looking like a real army thanks to weapons and training provided by Russia.

“We only had two options: bad or worse,” Yatsenyuk likes to say about the Minsk peace deal. “We chose bad.” After the annexation of Crimea, the Ukrainian government saw the agreement as a form of triage to stem the loss of any more ground. For the West, the Minsk protocol created the illusion that the conflict had been relegated to conference rooms and working groups.

Everybody in Kiev understands that there’s no way of reconquering lost territory by force. Ukrainian politicians publicly pledge to win back breakaway regions through reform and economic success. What they hope for is that sanctions will cause enough problems inside Russia that the Kremlin will run out of resources to sabotage Ukraine. Wishful thinking won’t replace the painful reforms ahead.

The Opposition Bloc, led by former Yanukovych adherents, is keeping a low profile for now. They have no signs or banners outside the party’s sleek new offices in a glass tower overlooking Kiev.

In a park outside the capital, Yanukovych’s opulent residence has been turned into an informal museum of corruption. Activists complain that the property still belongs to the ex-president, in self-exile in Russia, through a straw man. Yanukovych’s old housekeeper continues to put out freshly cut flowers in the palatial living room, as if she expected him home for dinner in the evening.

16 comments

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This piece starts on the well-known note “President Viktor Yanukovych fled office after the demonstrations turned blood”. Yes, he managed to flee in the face of an armed coup which has overthrown the democratically elected powers. If he stayed there would be now a talk about his death due to the revolutionary upraising.

Then there is standard outpouring about the annexation of Crimea by Russia forgetting about that practically all people there including 2/3 of the Ukrainian army personnel wanted to join Russia.

Usual cliche of Donbas as victim of the Russian invasion is laughable. People of Donbas are taken completely out here.

All this puts light on the reforms. At least 1/3 of the population in Ukraine feels closer to Russia and do not want reforms which aim to put a wedge between the, and Russia. Reforms imposed by the present rulers which act as proxies of the West are doomed by this very fact.

Posted by wirk | Report as abusive

Meanwhile, back at the White House, President Nutless checks his fund-raising calendar to make sure that won’t conflict with any of his scheduled tee times.

The indifference and outright cowardice displayed by the west’s so-called “leaders” in the face of Russia’s bullying is utterly shameful and pathetic.

Every American who voted for Barack Obama shuuld be embarrassed.

Posted by Danram | Report as abusive

This is not an American problem. This is a petty Russian border skirmish near Chernobyl for christ’s sake. Any person urging more American lives and money spent on this useless patch of mud should put on their boots, buy their own plane ticket and go play army there on their own nickel. Have fun, take your time.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

It seems that there is not enough with one Greece in the EU,and they wanted two, and they got them. My congratulations to the Euroburocrats that promoted all this. I just wonder why they did not made another Maidan in Athens, after all, WHERE ALL THE MONEY loaned to the greeks went?
I am sure there is a lot on the Greek elite’s pockets, but NO ONE is calling them kleptocrats, are not they EU BACKED corrupt kleptocrats?
And now ONLY the poor and ignorant have to pay back?
It is very interesting, that EU is kicking out Greece for corruption, and inviting the corrupt and ukranian thieves inside the house.
Very smart from the Euro elites.

Posted by igorigor | Report as abusive

Slavic Union Now!!!

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

If this revolution is doomed, there will be another one in Ukraine… as well as in Russia. Learn History folks.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

One cannot underestimate how desperate Putin is for the Ukrainian move to Europe to fail.

Military aggression in the east, subversion, terrorism, economic blackmail, malicious propaganda and other underhand tactics. Ukrainian authorities report that almost all Ukrainian government, administration and security organs have been hacked by Russian agents.

Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine has been met with only weak and hesitant responses by Europe and the U.S. One gets the feeling that in particular Germany and France are just dying to get back to business as usual with Russia. Putin is laughing off the pitifully weak sanctions.

Ukraine is committed to reform and building a law based society. It faces great hurdles. But there is no alternative. Ukraine has dumped Russian-style autocracy forever. It could do with much more moral and material help from the West.

Posted by havryliv | Report as abusive

“The threat of fascism was always a hobgoblin created by Kremlin propagandists.” Oh, really? Methinks our esteemed correspondent has either not done his homework or perhaps is trying to mislead his readers. The neonazi Right Sector was instrumental in the overthrow of the Yankuovych government and continues to play a role in keeping the citizens of Ukraine in line as the west prepares to apply shock therapy to the economy.

Posted by merton45 | Report as abusive

Fascists in the Ukraine government is a fantasy of Russian propagandists?!

This demonstrates that either the author knows nothing about those supporting – and inside – the Ukraine government, or that this merely demonstrates that Reuters, like virtually all mainstream media in the West, is now nothing more than propaganda channels for the US neocons.

To write an article about the history of this Ukrainian ‘revolution’, and to refer to Russia’s supposed annexing of Crimea, while completely ignoring, and saying nothing about, the fact that this so-called revolution was backed and financed by the US neocons (by their own admission), and assisted by their side-kicks in the EU, again merely demonstrates to any reasonably objective readers that this is just another propaganda piece for the US neocon war mongers.

Posted by ricardo1111111 | Report as abusive

Meanwhile in the real world the US and EU in no way contributed to the fiasco that is now Ukraine. The US never interfered at the meeting in Yalta in 2013 and stopped the EU Russia and Ukraine arriving at a trade deal. The US controlled NATO has not been encircling Russia for years, the US do not have the son of an American politician on the board of a major Ukraine gas company (since the conflict started) And Nuland never said the F___ EU will do what its told. Also the US arms companies will not in any way make a profit out of the increased arms require by eastern European countries to counter the threat from an aggressive Russia that is dominating the world both militarily and financially

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

Russia remains the largest country on earth by area; yet the poorest developed nation on earth. Why is that? The main reason is that anyone in Russia with intelligence or ambition left long ago. Think of the smart Russians you know. They don’t live in Russia.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

May I ask why Victoria Nuland was bringing cookies to the Maidan violent activists?

Posted by Loveoneanoter | Report as abusive

Guys, there are a lot of lies published these days on the internet.

Sadly most of the lies are fabricated in the west, and published with dubious goals to help promote the interests of some selfish groups of influential people.

Posted by Loveoneanoter | Report as abusive

“…while the EU, which never had any intention of taking in Ukraine, pushed an association agreement out of bureaucratic habit more than strategic vision.”

Lucian Kim, on what grounds do you make assumptions on European intentions?

Posted by M.CH | Report as abusive

The United Nations Foundation created by billionaire Ted Turner, along with a branch of media giant Thompson Reuters, is starting to train a squadron of journalists and subsidize media content in 33 countries—including the U.S. and Britain–in a planned $6 million effort to popularize the bulky and sweeping U.N.-sponsored Sustainable Development Goals, prior to a global U.N. summit this September. where U.N. organizers hope they will be endorsed by world leaders. By George Russell

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

The media has sold out…………………reuters and others……..

GOEBBELS’ PRINCIPLES OF PROPAGANDA

1. Propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.

2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority.

a. It must issue all the propaganda directives.

b. It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.

c. It must oversee other agencies’ activities which have propaganda consequences

3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action.

4. Propaganda must affect the enemy’s policy and action.

a. By suppressing propagandistically desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence

b. By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions

c. By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself

d. By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference would discredit that activity

5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign

6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive