Is Ukraine failing as a state?
Ukraine’s turmoil has turned into an international conflict. It is important to realize that Ukrainians, in all regions, have every reason to be profoundly dissatisfied with their leadership. Ukraine’s independence has thus far been a disappointing affair.
Ever since Ukrainians filled Maidan to protest against their then president Yanukovich, and chased him away, much attention has been paid to Russia’s role in the events. It supported the president and still does not acknowledge his successor; it supported the Crimean secession from Ukraine and welcomed the peninsula into its Federation, and most recently; it advocates more independence for the Russian-speaking eastern parts of Ukraine.
A long economic crisis
It is obvious that Russia exercises great influence in Ukraine, which until 1991 was part of a Russia-dominated empire (tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union). Like all Soviet successor states, Ukraine experienced a deep economic crisis, but its recovery was slower and less successful than that of others. Never an efficient economy, Ukraine currently is the most energy intensive economy in the world, using more than 2.5 more energy equivalents per unit income than the world average. Most of its energy is imported from Russia at discount prices, which leaves it vulnerable to Russia’s political influence.
Doing a poor job
Ukaine’s leadership did a poor job in reducing Russia’s influence. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in several of its annual Transition Reports points to a poor business climate in Ukraine where there is a cumbersome legislatory framework unstable legislation and widespread corruption. Anti-competitive practices are everywhere. This leaves Ukraine with low levels of investment, and thus little means to modernize its economy and make it less dependent on Russia’s energy.
Ukrainian politics has been extremely divisive and its politicians are tainted by scandal and driven by personal (business) interests. The 1990s witnessed the rise to power of an elite that had made its fortune through wealth appropriation and that used this wealth to wield economic and political power. There was little respect for the law as an end in itself. Rather it was used as a tool to achieve ends. There was little respect for agreements either. Ukrainian governments made promises to Russia in exchange for cheap energy only to break them. Russia’s subsequent cutbacks of energy supplies was met by taking energy that was meant for other European countries.
Yanukovich was not the first president unable to complete his term. The first president of Ukraine, Kravchuk, also had to leave his position prematurely. And Ukrainians were extremely disappointed with their two other presidents who faced low support towards the end of their terms. The current acting president Turchynov also has a history of combining political positions with business interests. His decision to make Ukrainian the only official language in Ukraine provided a focus point for Crimean and east Ukrainian opposition against the government, even though the act was swiftly repealed. It also facilitated Russia’s meddling and protecting their Russian-speaking brethren in Ukraine. Protests against the Ukrainian government may now be concentrated in the east, but Maidan is in Kiev, in central Ukraine. It is not just east Ukrainians who have rallied against their government.