Ongoing violence in the country may prevent its fledgling government from pushing through much-needed reformsby David Patrikarakos / November 6, 2014 / Leave a comment
Ukraine’s problems are getting worse. Despite a ceasefire agreed between President Petro Poroshenko and the Russian-backed separatists on 5th September in Minsk, Poroshenko has just ordered more troops to the eastern Ukraine for fear of further aggression. Both sides are gearing up for more fighting. It is going to be a long winter.
Poroshenko faces two problems, the first is obvious: Russian-backed internal aggression. The second is less obvious but arguably more dangerous: internal Ukrainian politics. The separatist threat is serious but it is not existential. The greatest threat to Ukraine’s viability as a state comes not from Donetsk but from Kiev. The country is broke; its government and bureaucracy paralysed by inefficiency and waste. Corruption has lubricated the wheels of state since independence and the people are sick of it. Poroshenko need to implement huge legal, political, constitutional and economic reforms—and to implement them now.
Ukrainian civil society found its voice during Maidan Revolution. Many of those who faced Yanukovych’s riot police on the frontlines at Independence Square are now on the frontlines of the fight against corruption. NGOs and civil society organizations desperate to reform the state have mushroomed across Ukraine this past year, with limited success. “The political will is lacking,” a young NGO activist told me over coffee in Kiev. “The [politicians’] reply is [always] the same: the situation in the east must be resolved before we can think about reforms.”
It may well be that Poroshenko is trying to do both. Despite the tough talk, he is a businessman and a pragmatist who has long expressed a willingness to make concessions to East Ukrainians on issue of concern such as greater rights for minorities and decentralisation of power.
Critically, this willingness exists throughout Ukraine’s government. Privately, officials believe that extraordinary elections may be needed to give marginalised voters in the southeast a voice and to create a political class able to deal with Kiev. There has even been talk of allowing separatist leaders into mainstream Ukrainian politics. Over the summer I met with a Ukraine Security Council official in a Kiev café. He was blunt. “We are facing situation like you had with the IRA,” he said. “We…