‘The only thing Ukraine really needs is to have Russia stay away from it’
“To settle down” in the post-Communist world probably means to consolidate either as a full-fledged democracy — as most East European countries did successfully with Western assistance — or an iron-clad authoritarianism, as happened eventually in most post-Soviet republics. Ukraine remained at the crossroads as a hybrid regime, with a pretty competitive political field, open media, but also with very weak, often dysfunctional, institutions and a serious deficit of the rule of law. The stalemate resulted from a near-equal balance of forces between the Ancien regime supported by the Sovietophile, paternalistic, backward-looking part of the population, and the anti-Soviet, Western-oriented and civically engaged. The former strove for the patron-client system of Russian, Belarussian, and Central Asian type of governance and the latter wanted Ukraine to follow the way Poland and other East European states have moved towards liberal democracy and rule of law embodied by the European Union.
In this view, the recent Ukrainian revolution can be considered a third attempt to “settle down”, to complete the unfinished business of the 1989 East European revolutions. In 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed, the Ukrainian democratic and national liberation movement was hijacked by the Communist nomenklatura who got rid of the party membership, but not the old habits. In 2004, Ukrainians made another attempt, broadly known as the Orange Revolution. They brought new people to power but did not force them to carry out the much-needed institutional reforms, starting primarily with the rule of law. They allowed their leaders to play with the rules, rather than by the rules, and such a lawless, dysfunctional democracy compromised itself to such a degree that the Orange electorate punished the leaders by staying at home and watching the supporters of Victor Yanukovych vote him by a slight majority into office. The result was disastrous. The destruction of institutions and complete monopoly of power by the president’s “family” made peaceful removal of the incumbents in elections virtually impossible. The third Ukrainian revolution turned regretfully violent, following, rather, the Romanian than the Polish, East German, or Czechoslovak pattern.
It is not clear whether Ukrainians will “settle down” any time soon considering the enormous political, economic and institutional problems they face — which are exacerbated by the Russian military invasion. There is no doubt, however, that new attempts will continue to be made till the country’s Westward value-driven drift is completed. Both the persistence of past attempts and increasing pro-Western orientation of younger people will make such a shift inevitable.
How much are the EU and the US further fanning the problems for the people of Ukraine?
I feel the EU and US contribute to Ukrainian problems much more by their inaction. The US has been too preoccupied with some other regions in past decades, and rather naively relied too much on Russian cooperation on various international issues. The only role Russia effectively plays on the international scene is that of a spoiler. As for the EU, it is corrupted by Russian money and too eager to sacrifice the professed values for the sake of realpolitik involving geopolitical, mostly mercantile, interests.
The EU has never considered Ukraine as part of the European project since its very emergence and did not offer any guardianship, any long-term membership prospects after the Orange Revolution when the expectations of the Ukrainians were high and largescale transformations under wise guidance were quite possible. The Ukrainian project has no raison d’etre for imperial Russia, who denies Ukrainian identity and Ukraine’s very existence. So Ukrainians, anyway, try to move into the opposite direction, closer to the EU, with or without its consent.
What is the ideal solution for Ukraine so that its citizens can go on with life?
The only thing Ukraine really needs is to have Russia stay away from it. In the past 20 years, Ukrainians have failed to develop their country on a par with Poland or other East European states, but they definitely developed a much more liberal, open, pluralistic and politically competitive society than Russia or anywhere else east, post-Soviet. And, despite all its domestic problems and tensions, there was bloodshed in Ukraine as the Kremlin pressurized, encouraged, and probably manipulated Yanukovych to open fire on peaceful protesters. This kind of “brotherly” care from Russia only impedes Ukrainian development like it has for three centuries. The country is likely to manage itself if left alone, like all its Western post-Communist neighbours have successfully done.
Is it in the interest of the people of Ukraine to see Putin boycotted and sanctions imposed against the people of Russia now?
I don’t think the West is considering any sanctions against the “people of Russia”. But the ruling clique deserves all possible sanctions for the reasons I mention above. Any attempt to appease dictators leads to nowhere – as the case of the 1938-39 annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party graphically illustrates.