Three risks and three scenarios for Ukraine

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Ukrainians light candles to commemorate people, who were killed on the Maidan during anti-government protests in 2014, not far from the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, 20 February 2017. [Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA]

Between 2014 and 2017, Ukraine’s leadership failed to transform the country’s old post-Soviet Russia oligarchic system into a European and Western-style democracy. The transformation is inefficient and slow, and this entails risk, writes Roman Rukomeda.

Roman Rukomeda is a political expert.

There is no doubt that Russia continues to influence Ukraine by all possible means available. Cyber warfare became the main direction of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine in the first half of 2017.

However, the Ukrainian authorities are alleged to be using the undeclared war with Russia as the main reason for the lack of reforms and transformations in the country.

One of the key risks in Ukraine is the perception of people of the absence of effective efforts to fight corruption on all levels. During the July EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv, President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker said Ukraine needs to speed up its fight against corruption.

Otherwise, there will be no serious progress in the dialogue with the EU regarding financial support (the next €600 million tranche from the EU to Ukraine is dependent on real results in the fight against corruption).

For that reason, the Ukrainian president will be keen to show some results in fighting corruption at the middle level. However, without any major agreements with internal players in Ukraine, it is rather unlikely that real measures to fight corruption on the top level will be carried out.

Another important risk for Ukraine is retaining an oligarchic model of power that does not promote the development of strong and transparent democratic institutions, an advanced level of political institutional culture, or build integrity and implement European values.

President Poroshenko is criticised for playing the role of the chief oligarch in Ukraine, using his political position to secure strong influence over the media, various industries, the financial sector, security, law enforcement and the courts.

At the same time, as President, he exercises informal control over the somewhat unstable coalition in Parliament and over the cabinet of ministers. Consequently, all the other main oligarchs in Ukraine now either support the president or oppose him, resulting in several challenges in sorting out the national economy properly.

The third most important risk is the open threat from Russia. It is present not only in the form of military operations in Donbas but also potentially in the spheres of economy, media, information technology and energy, to mention but a few.

It is very clear that Russia is currently by no means ready to recognise the independence of the Ukraine state and its right to decide on what level of relationship it would have and what position it would take on the issue of integration with the EU and the Euro-Atlantic community. Consequently, this complicated situation will continue for quite some time.

I see three scenarios. Let’s start with the optimistic one. Following his declarations, Ukraine will intensify its internal reforms and transformations. Besides the implementation of NATO approaches and standards in the defence and security sector, the Ukrainian authorities will initiate a real and massive fight against corruption.

For that purpose, the judicial reform will be urgently conducted and the first wave of high-level corrupt officials (MPs, ministers and deputy ministers, prosecutors, judges etc.) will go to jail after open court trials, with transparency for public decisions. The rule of law will be strengthened, and the oligarchic model will start to shift towards a democratic model.

This will ruin the existing monopolistic schemes in the national economy and open up markets, making Ukraine attractive for foreign investors. NATO will continue to support Ukraine and will start discussing the possibility of a Membership Action Plan for Kyiv after 2020.

The EU will confirm that Ukraine’s reforms are satisfactory and launch the new plan of economic support for Ukraine in autumn of 2017. Russia will slowly prepare the withdrawal of its troops from Donbas under pressure from Western sanctions and growing internal problems.

The pessimistic scenario.

Ukraine will sink into deep internal controversy. The fight for the decreasing amount of state resources between the oligarchic groups will escalate, resulting in political instability (early parliamentarian or even presidential elections).

Massive internal protests (partly inspired by different oligarchic groups) could lead to serious unrest, conflicts with the police or National Guard and civilian casualties. Ukraine could once again move towards a new internal revolution on the basis of total war between different oligarchic groups that will try to seek support from outside players (EU, USA and Russia).

Consequently, the state system will become less effective and economic, social and technological development will fail, as will integration into the EU and NATO. Ukraine will effectively follow the pattern of third world countries, creating a large number of security risks in the region for all of its neighbours.

Russia will exploit this situation and try to launch a new military offensive in Donbas or establish control over the Ukrainian authorities through political, economic, media and other ways of manipulation. The state will be seized from the Ukrainian people by oligarchs.

The realistic scenario.

This scenario is the most probable and will combine elements of the two scenarios mentioned above. It is more likely that the current Ukrainian government will continue to reform the country, but at a slow pace, preparing the grounds for controlling key media actors as well as continuing to exercise control over major economic and financial resources in the country.

The main political partner will continue to be the National Front party. Oligarchs will redirect business to the west. The Government will try to fight corruption at a low and medium level, but impunity for corruption will continue at a high level.

The EU and NATO will nevertheless continue to support Ukraine but without deep integration’ in the absence of structural internal changes. Ukraine will slowly move along the path of a developing democracy, but the road will be long and painful. A joint solution on Donbas may eventually be reached in the conflict with Russia, while the issue of Crimea will be put on hold indefinitely.