Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Russia and the Ukraine: even in crisis Kyiv has a divergent path.
At least for now.
Muscovite Russia’s 550 year empirical project is not yet dead. Beaten, bloody and battered, but not yet finished. The Ukraine declared independence from Russian domination in 2004 with its Orange revolution establishing a Western styled political system and constitution. Not unexpectedly this divided nation is going through the most wrenching political and constitutional crisis in its brief period of autonomy. It is uncertain if the Ukraine will maintain its new-found freedom and escape the shackles of Moscovite imperial domination, or fall back into the orbit of Russian control. It will be a defeat for Europe if the Ukraine fails.
The country of 47 million people is an important area of trading, transportation and communication exchange between east and west. For centuries its rivers, agricultural output, trading wealth, and geographical advantage has been coveted by various empires. From the time of Stalin the Russians spent money and energy to turn the eastern and southern parts of what is now the Ukraine into Russian dependencies.
That historical exercise has paid off. The pro-EU coalition of Western friendly President Yushchenko is seriously challenged and might even be eclipsed by the Russian backed former mafia-don Yanukovich and his party centered in the east and south of the country. Yushchenko recently dissolved the Parliament since he was unable to pass reformist agendas through the Yanukovich-bloc. The legality of the dismissal is currently under judicial review. Most likely the courts will rule that the dismissal is legal but only if another election is called in which the population can re-ratify their governmental representation. There is a good chance that in the next election Ukraine’s pro-Russian forces will win.
It is hard to say what this will mean in concrete terms for the Ukraine. If the Ukraine reorients itself towards the Russian empire than some obvious problems will arise, but just as clearly, most of these issues would exist anyways. The destruction of the current regime and the establishment of something less Western oriented, will naturally cause frictions, but it will not mean the end of the Ukraine.
Energy is one obvious issue. The Ukraine imports 80% of its gas and energy from Russia – another legacy of Soviet empire planning and consolidation. Europe imports 50%. Allowing Russian political-energy concerns to control the energy inputs of your country is a severe risk. Diversification from Russian energy sources can only occur under a pro-Western regime with EU funding aid. Recently this has not transpired. In this regard a Russian controlled Ukrainian government is the maintenance of the status quo.
A second concern is that the Ukrainian economy while growing solidly at about 5-7% per year, is growing slower than Russia. The Russians have oil and energy and foreign investment. The Ukrainians saddled with older industrial complexes; agricultural production and antiquated plants don’t. Corruption, a poor legal framework, industrial oligopolies, governmental incompetence and fraud are still major issues holding back foreign investment, productivity, wage growth and a healthier economy. The current government has made slow progress towards improving the economy – but not nearly enough. A Russian dominated government would hardly be better, but it would not be much worse than the current governing coalition.
A third problem area is European cooperation. To its credit the EU is giving the Ukraine a $660 million aid package over the next four years. This is a significant increase in funding but it remains to be seen what would happen if a pro-Russian party took over in Kyiv. Most likely the EU would have little choice but to keep aiding the Ukraine, to stabilize it and try to work with reforming agencies and parties to reconstruct a pro-EU state over time. Leaving the Ukraine to the predations of Moscow will simply not be an option regardless of who is in power.
In short though the Ukraine is at an unhappy juncture, the future is not necessarily as bleak as it might look. The current crisis proves a few things. It certifies that there is a rule of law in the Ukraine that cannot be rolled back. Separation of powers between the executive, judicial and legislative branches is secure. Even a Russian backed mafia party cannot recast important constitutional and legalistic innovations. Simply put for whatever their many failings at least Yushchenko and his coalition has pushed the Ukraine from arbitrary rule down the road to Western styled governance.
Regardless of the outcome of the current crisis, only an armed insurrection can push the Ukraine back into the shadows of history and Russian subservience. The democratic and political processes now existent in the Ukraine will mean a rejection of autocracy and no matter who wins the next election, a stuttering step forward towards the creation of a normally functioning state.
This is something which cannot be said of Mother Russia.