Kiev, Ukraine, February 22, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Much ink has been spilled lately over the Ukrainian revolutionary events, but as the “fog of war” settles, a new reality emerges, bringing with it both old and new pressing issues to the doorstep of the new Ukrainian government. These challenges and their treatment, and not politicians’ slogans thrown to the air, will determine Ukraine’s future. Therefore, in my analysis I want to outline the two major challenges standing before the new government in Kiev.
First is the fiscal one. Ukraine today is standing on the verge of bankruptcy. Its treasury is empty and there is no clear remedy in sight. The decade since the Orange Revolution in 2004 was very bad for the Ukrainian economy, that had been steadily growing under president Leonid Kuchma. Continuous political turmoil, governmental paralysis and incompetence, but above all raging, unprecedented corruption, have devastated the economy.
No wonder the desperate people took to the streets and were ready to risk themselves in order to topple Viktor Yanukovich’s regime. Moreover, recent events in Ukraine can hardly assist in attracting investment.
In this situation, financial assistance from the international community will be crucial. Yet large sums of money will be needed to keep the state afloat, even for a relatively short period of time. Some voices have already called for a Ukrainian “Marshall Plan,” but the big question pending regards the international community’s ability and readiness to allocate such sums for the Ukrainian cause.
Economic crisis has been tough on everyone and even if the necessary funds are found it is not clear whether the major international actors will be ready to risk it for the questionable Ukrainian project. The European Union that has served as a trigger for the current Ukrainian crisis seems to be preoccupied with its own problems, while bearing in mind the huge difficulties it had with much smaller Greece.
Therefore, it is unlikely to make a serious contribution.
At the same time, a joint international effort could be effective, especially if the allocated money is provided on specific economic and political conditions, aimed at preventing the new government from taking any radical steps in both spheres.
THE SECOND but not less significant challenge the new Ukrainian government will face is political stabilization and societal consolidation.
Even before the latest events, Ukraine was notorious as a torn and polarized country, split between the Russian-speaking southeast and the Ukrainian-speaking west. But after blood was spilled on the streets of Kiev, mutual animosities and suspicions between the two communities have naturally deepened even further.
Many in the east, even among those who did not support Yanukovich, are now afraid of west- Ukrainian nationalists’ revenge raids and of west- Ukrainian aggressive and intrusive political domination of the whole country.
Fed by the propaganda aired on Russian TV channels, many in the east tend to see all the revolutionary forces as anti-eastern and increasingly dominated by the radical nationalists.
Western radicals’ significant role in the Kiev events does not help to disprove this gross generalization.
These very real and partially grounded fears are sure to be capitalized on and further aggravated by local politicians in Russian-speaking regions.
In fact, this process seems to already be taking place in the city of Sevastopol in the Russian- speaking Crimea peninsula, where riot police squads returning home from Kiev were treated as heroes and local self-defense and selfrule initiatives have been announced.
Even in a best-case scenario, the new central government taking shape in Kiev is sure to be much weaker than its predecessors. The lack of financial resources coupled with the Ukrainian nationalists’ desire to secure political achievements in the western regions on the one side, and the above-mentioned entrenchment and suspiciousness in the east on the other, will inevitably undermine the central power.
But for the new government to be viable at all, it has to alienate radicals and refrain from any nationalistic rhetoric on its own side, while providing security guarantees for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and setting working relations with eastern local elites.
On a governmental level, some sort of co-option or incorporation of figures and fractions from Yanukovich’s former coalition could serve this purpose. Federalization or some sort of decentralization of power could also satisfy the desires of both sides. But the question remains whether the new government will be wise and visionary enough to see the necessity instead of simply trying to further maximize its victory gains. While looking at the recent Ukrainian past and the current acting parties, one has to remain skeptical.
The author is a PhD candidate in political studies at Bar-Ilan University and lecturer at Ariel University.