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With Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko scheduled to address Congress tomorrow, we must understand that he faces both the external problem that we follow closely and an internal problem about which we hear little. The external problem is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which has led to over 3,000 deaths. The internal problem is Ukraine’s political crisis which Irina Gokieli addresses below.
The Maidan revolution was a popular uprising against Russian domination, against a corrupt political class, and against a society that lacked a rule of law. In her essay, Irina describes Ukraine’s hard road in fighting both an external and an internal conflict with a parliamentary election looming in the near future. As Mikhail Gorbachev before him in Russia, Poroshenko faces a parliament that reflects the corruption and abuse of the ruling elite that has held sway over Ukraine since independence. She issues an urgent appeal to the West to pressure Ukraine to deal with its internal problems, without which Ukraine has little hope of prevailing over Russian aggression.
What a day this has been. The Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), in a closed, secret vote, adopted the law on special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions, providing for local self-rule and amnesty for the separatists (terrorists), who in turn responded with the announcement that they have created the joint army of “Novorossiya” (Putin’s term, meaning “New Russia”).
Russia, which lobbied for everything the new law provides, welcomed it with the Russian Defense Minister announcing that Russia will deploy a “full-fledged and self-sufficient” army in the Crimean area. Also, the Rada ratified the EU Association Agreement, while delaying implementation of key parts. On top of that, the Rada, after several failed attempts and a threat from Speaker Turchinov to keep them locked inside until they carried out the final vote, adopted the law on lustration. One of the most odious Rada Deputies from the Party of Regions was caught by protesters outside the Rada and was thrown into a garbage bin, but, after being extracted by bodyguards, shrugged it off.
The blogosphere is exploding and my head is spinning. It is impossible to evaluate or predict anything anymore!
Everybody agrees that Ukraine faces two major challenges: external and internal. The external threat has been documented and exposed for the entire world to see, and the civilized world has been taking increasingly serious actions. Paul Gregory in his recent Forbes column brilliantly analyzed the latest sanctions against Russia, just right and just in time. It looks like mainstream opinion is that Putin is kaput in the long run, but how long is long? And how will we in Ukraine survive in the meantime?
The internal challenges are equally formidable.
The mood in Kiev is very confused because of a myriad of internal problems. The anti-terrorist operation (ATO) has been suspended, but Russian rockets (Grads) continue non-stop shelling of Ukrainian positions. Battles continue, and Ukrainian warriors are getting killed every day. I read several first-hand accounts by members of the regular army and volunteer battalions and they all say the same thing. From the government they are receiving no weapons, no food, no supplies, no money, no support to the families, no information and no coordination. They get incorrect orders from a government that suffers from mismanagement, corruption, and a total lack of responsibility. (The slaughter of Ukrainian troops by regular Russian forces at Illovaisk was a catastrophe — some say intentional — but nobody in the top was held responsible.)
There is massive volunteer assistance going on, but this is not even close to enough, and citizens are running out of money because the economy is so slow. Many of the volunteer fighters — the best of them, who survived — resigned and went home to support their families. The economic reforms are not moving forward. The government is taking some baby steps here and there, but they are inevitably reversed later in favor of the corrupt class.
To complicate matters more, the Rada election campaign is starting in full swing. Many leading activists, trusted journalists, Maidan veterans, and volunteer battalion commanders have been pulled in different directions by politicians to enhance their party lists (I am in favor of all of them going into the Rada. We need battalion commanders in parliament even more than on the field of battle), but they should have united into one party instead of being pulled by the political class in different directions and being corrupted or discredited (There is a PR machine working, for example, against Donbass commander Semenchenko). The only hint of good news is that the Mayor of Lyiv, Andrii Sadovyi, is running with the new party “Self-Help”, which could possibly fill out the long empty niche of a patriotic, pro-small business party. They will have my vote for sure.
Amazingly, our rotten political class is busy with the same old game of elections and corruption, ignoring the gathering signs of grave danger. People are extremely angry and some are armed and went through the hell of the “anti-terror operation.” The phantom of the third Maidan may very well materialize from what I am hearing and reading, and if the Euromaidan was anti-colonial, this one will be aimed at elimination of our broken political system and the ruling class (this may turn out to be a physical elimination).
Where is the leadership that can show real progress and real action to prevent this? Can it be that their greed and rotten instincts are that much stronger than their survival instincts?
A blogger who was drafted into the regular army has warned of some imminent events originating within the regular army. Another one, providing a more measured analysis, still warns of internal threats.
These sound scary. The situation may get out of control in the near future. Of course, it’s worth asking: is it under control now? And, if so, under whose control?
The West is busy with external threats and with containing Russia, which indeed should be the top priority. But does the West understand that the key for containing Russia and preventing World War III is fortifying Ukraine from within? Is there any serious and urgent effort to firmly guide the Ukrainian Government and the military towards real substantive reforms and actions? Towards a civilized, modern system and away from the third Maidan explosion?
The internal situation is summarized in the most recent report from the visit to Ukraine by the former U.S. Ambassador Steven Pifer, who concludes that if the Ukrainian ruling class does not get its act together, “Kyiv will have a difficult time addressing the many challenges confronting it. And it will have a much harder time securing stronger support from the United States and Europe if the West feels that it has seen the movie before… and already knows the unhappy ending.”
Well, if the West remains indifferent to the internal challenges of Ukraine, this time it will not just be watching the movie… it will turn out to be one of the main victims of the tragedy. The current mantra — “it is for Ukrainians to decide” — does not work anymore. The internal problems of Ukraine are external problems for the entire world. Are Western leaders paying enough attention? While providing important and justified assistance, the West must fully engage and demand real reforms from the Ukrainian government, otherwise the demand will come (much more forcefully) from the people of Ukraine.
Ukrainians want very simple things that the civilized world takes for granted: justice, the rule of law, self-governance, a transparent political and legal system, and respect for human rights. They are not at all calling for “expropriating expropriators” (the slogan of the Bolshevik Revolution). Most of the activists are small or mid-level entrepreneurs who understand what it takes to run a business, create jobs, and support their families. They are not falling into despair or panic, but they make it very clear to the ruling class that they will no longer tolerate the lack of reform or the abuse and corruption coming from the government.
After all the sacrifice, is this too much to ask? If the ruling class once again fails to get it, the garbage bin of history may be where they belong. The West must make them understand it and make them take urgent and earnest reforms to prevent the third Maidan. Most Ukrainians will be only too happy to just go back to their daily jobs, understanding very well that every effort, however small, makes a difference. This is not the time to give up.