One year has passed since Ukrainians, undertaking considerable losses, got rid of the regime of Victor Yanukovych. New opportunities came as a result – so why has the government not implemented them so far? One can sum up some results and ask unpleasant questions. There are two that are the most annoying of them: 1) Why are we not successful in the war with the separatists and Russia? 2) Why have we not been able to begin the democratic transformation of government in Ukraine?
At this point doubts can be raised about the competence and the democratic foundation of the newly elected government and president. The continued division of resources and influence, which has long been known since the time of Yanukovych, is also common practice among the present elite. Corruption and the reluctance of officials to positive change cause stagnation in the reform-process that is subject to a fatal crash even before their implementation. The country is drowning in debt, the economy is on the brink of collapse, and the need for loans from the ECB, EU and IMF increases on a daily base. Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund provides Ukraine with the largest financial aid package in the history of the fund, but the trust of society and international donors towards the Ukrainian government falls. Last week the Hrivna was extremely devaluated and lost 200% of it’s value within 6 months. At the moment the average salary in Ukraine is around 43 US Dollar. The president and prime minister keep looking for responsibility, and hoping to stabilize the economy with new effective reforms and another donation from the IMF.
Internal stagnation, along with the background of military aggression, manifesting itself in a deep socio-economic crisis, the political uncertainty, substitution of real reform and with promises and expectations, a huge level of corruption and extreme impoverishment of people, the practical destruction of two industrial infrastructure regions – Luhansk and Donetsk, and unsolved problems in this regard, internal migration – all this is the basis of the lack of confidence in the country
In the end the Ukrainian crisis is not only a phenomenon of international policy, but more importantly an internal issue. If society and politicians are not ready to changes, any integration will not be successful. That the EU under the impression of armed conflict has repeatedly turned a blind eye to the lack of transformation rule of law, fighting corruption and transparency of government certainly doesn’t help this process.
At the same time, we see that Ukrainian society is not passive. We see the growing volunteer movement that formed parallel to the national army an alternative army of volunteer battalions. This volunteer movement supports the Ukrainian army in the east and takes a big share of the fighting against Russian invaders. Ukrainians are united again but at the same time polarized. People living in the territories of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics still do not believe in peaceful coexistence of Ukrainians in one country. Does it mean we have to leave the territory to separatists? The words of Angela Merkel that the essence of the Minsk Agreement – the holding of free elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – may be rejected by most Ukrainians, as we still remember the flawed referendum and the annexation of the Crimea last spring. But this step is very important for peace in Ukraine, as in this case, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be represented in the political arena of the country and will have legitimate political power and autonomy. It is very likely that the Russian puppets – mostly representatives of the Russian secret services -that created “People’s Republics“will no longer be able to claim a right of representation of the so called DNR and LNR. The inhabitants of the region might not trust the government in Kyiv but also don’t show a lot of support for the oppressive regimes of the Russian separatists.
What is the international reaction to these developments?The complex international reactions surrounding the situation in Ukraine are direct consequences of phobias and fears of global actors. None of the parties involved wants to take responsibility – neither for resolution of the situation, nor for freezing it. Europeans are most afraid of being drawn into the war, because they believe that at this point it can still be avoided. If the war intensifies, the real cause is not the actual situation in the east of Ukraine, but the growing geopolitical confrontation between the US and Russia, which overwhelmed European political actors during the last weeks. US statements about the possible supply of lethal weapons in Ukraine are not perceived by European governmentsas a threat towards Vladimir Putin, but rather as a political maneuver to increase the distance between Russian and Europe actors.
Indeed, after thousands of deaths inflicted bythe military confrontation in the east of Ukraine, one can only hope for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, the success of political and economic sanctions and an end of the information war of the Russian Federation, which prepared the subsoil of the Ukrainian conflict.
Still the military threat Russia imposes towards Eastern European countries is not new – if we take for example Abkhazia where Russian military supported a violent secession from Georgia. Russians and their local supporters have killed and ethnically cleansed all Georgians from Abkhazeti region. 6,000 people were killed and 350,000 ethnically displacedbetween 1992 and 1993. In Ukraine, the number of victims is so far limited to 5,000 dead, according to official data. Even if an end to violence in Eastern Ukraine can be reached it is very likely that Russia will start comparable conflicts somewhere else in the near future. The only real possibility for an end of this forced restoration of the Soviet Empire is democratic political change in Russia.
The Russian side has achieved its goal during Minsk-1 and Minsk-2. The main thing is that in the negotiations the military actions were not legally defined as military aggression. The goal was conservation of situation in which Ukraine is characterized as destabilized, politically, socio-economically weak country. It is unclear if a new failure of the agreement would lead directly to a full scale war or to another round of talks, however all actors should understand that the time to solve this situation diplomatically is running out rapidly.
“We were actually presented an ultimatum. Either we accept the conditions of Putin and stop any resistance, or cease to exist as an independent state. He made it clear that he will not stop before any losses and expenses to achieve his goals,” – said Leonid Kuchma, former president of Ukraine. Indeed, representatives of the DNR and LNR reject any formal agreements at the international level. The negotiations on the 11th of February are no exception when Russian military continues to move soldiers and equipment across the Ukrainian border and the separatists keep moving inside the country. Therefore, there is no guarantee that further diplomacy will influence the position of Kremlin.
As Ukrainian political scientists claim, a solution of the Ukrainian conflict, if found, could create a blueprint for other frozen conflicts in post-soviet countries. However looking at these conflicts, e.g. in Abkhazia or Nagorno-Karabakh it is more likely that even a solution for the time being would not lead to stable peace. The main question remains: What price is to be paid for peace and can this price be acceptable for all actors involved? In the speeches delivered at the Munich Security Conference and its sidelines one could feel the real fear that all efforts will be in vain and the world is on the verge of full-scale war.
Julia Rudenko, IFLRY Belarus and Ukraine Programme team member, has been active in IFLRY since 2009. She studied Political Science in Kiev and Jena. Since March 2015 Julia is involved in the EVS Project in Germany which deals with cultural and social integration of immigrants from Eastern Europe