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European Council on Foreign Relations | 21May2015 | Andrew Wilson et al [10 essays]

What does Ukraine think?

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With the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Donbas, the EU needs more than ever to understand what Ukrainians themselves think about their future. In What does Ukraine think?, edited by Andrew Wilson, the authors argue that too much of the debate and the diplomacy in the current crisis has been conducted without Ukraine.

This volume allows leading Ukrainian experts -- among whom Sergii Leshchenko, Anton Shekhovtsov, and Andrey Kurkov -- to put forward their own point of view, giving a flavour of local debates in the terms and frames of reference that Ukrainians use. ECFR is delighted to give a platform for what Ukrainians call the “direct voice” of participants themselves.

The essay collection contains four sets of papers:

Andrew Wilson says: “Ukrainian writers, thinkers and politicians discuss the challenges of the war with Russia and of attempting simultaneously to rescue and reform a moribund economy. Many take heart from the claim that the new Ukraine is paradoxically consolidating under so much Russian pressure.  Without, for the time being at least, Crimea and half of the Donbas region, the other eastern and southern regions of Ukraine are supposedly uniting behind Kyiv -- making Putin a paradoxical Ukrainian nation-builder. The authors discuss the nature of the Russian challenge and the Western response, and report from key Ukrainian regions like Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk to test just how united the new Ukraine really is.”

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[W.Z. Although full text of the 10 essays is available in the pdf file; the short snippets reproduced below indicate the gist of each essay.]

Andrey Kurkov
- "Throughout Ukraine’s independent history, both in Crimea and in the Donbas region, local politicians and the business elite have wielded more influence than their counterparts in Kyiv, and those politicians and business leaders have spared no cost or effort in trying to convince the local population that the politicians in Kyiv and western Ukraine were not only corrupt, but also openly fascist."
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Andrew Wilson
- "Contrary to Russian propaganda about Ukrainian fascism, Ukrainian society is more tolerant of diversity than it used to be; it is Russia that is expressing a narrow, post-imperial, and Orthodox fundamentalism."
- "The sociologists Tatiana Zhurzhenko and Tanya Zaharchenko, on the other hand, describe how another key border region to the Donbas, the old Soviet Ukrainian capital of Kharkiv, has only partly overcome its past as an ambiguous borderland."
- " Moves to tackle corruption, reform the economy, and clean up Ukrainian politics will be frustrated until the underlying question of oligarchic power is tackled."
**** ****

1. Olexsiy Haran and Petro Burkovsky
Ukraine after the Minsk agreements
- On 20Jun2014, "a few days after the presidential election in Ukraine, emissaries from the Kremlin approached president-elect Petro Poroshenko to demand that the Ukrainian armed forces declare a unilateral ceasefire." [W.Z. The EU insisted on this ceasefire. This 10-day ceasefire was a huge mistake, since it allowed the separatists time to spread their control to outlying areas, which the volunteer battalions could have easily prevented.]
- "Only if and when the West decides to rearm Ukraine, at the same time as increasing sanctions, will Russia have to re-evaluate the cost of the conflict and the separatists be deterred and prevented from breaking the armistice in order to take new territory and move further inside Ukraine."
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2. Oksana Forostyna
Poaching, simmering, and boiling: The declining relevance of identity discourse in Ukraine
- "During the 1990s and at the beginning of the 2000s, language was part of political identity. If you spoke Ukrainian, you were most probably against the Kuchma regime."
- "For many, 30 November and 1 December [2013], the days when protesters occupied the city centre, represented the beginning of a personal transformation. People who had never been politically active made a huge jump from their private, normal worlds into something new, strange, and intense."
- "Few people in Ukraine could imagine just a few years ago that the core of newborn Ukrainian nationalism would be Dnipropetrovsk, the city of Russian-speakers, proud of its glorious Soviet past."
**** ****
3. Yaroslav Hrytsak
Rethinking Ukraine
[Hrytsak outlines the evolution of Ukrainian identity from the views of Lypynsky vs Dontsov/Bandera since WWI, the civic model accepted by Rukh in 1989, the oligarchization during the Kuchma era (1994-2004), the Ukrainianization of the Yushchenko era (2004-2010), and the dictatorial Yanukovych era (2010-2014).]
- "the strongest support for military action against the Donbas was in the neighbouring Russian-speaking region of Dnipropetrovsk. Future developments will depend to a large extent on the position of two other Russian-speaking cities, Odessa and Kharkiv."
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4. Tatiana Zhurzhenko
Ukraine’s Eastern Borderlands: The end of ambiguity?
- "In the October 2014 parliamentary elections, Kharkiv emerged as a stronghold of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc, which also did well in Zaporizhzhya, Mariupol, Kryvyi Rih, and even Dnipropetrovsk. A recent opinion poll demonstrates that, despite the city’s proximity to the military conflict, only 6.9 percent of people in Kharkiv see the fighting as a war between Russia and Ukraine, compared to 39.6 percent nationwide."
- "The pro-Russian group Oplot and the Ukrainian far-right group Patriot Ukraїny both emerged in Kharkiv, long before the outbreak of violence in 2013–2014."
- "The war in the Donbas has become a new rupture in contemporary Ukrainian history, a point of crystallisation for identities, discourses, and narratives for decades to come."
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5. Tanya Zaharchenko
East Ukraine Beyond Pro and Anti: Monochrome Prefixes and Their Discontents
- "My own Russophone friends and family in east Ukraine have been less than supportive about my decision to accept a 12-month postdoctoral fellowship in St Petersburg. And the region (and Kharkiv in particular) has seen massive volunteering efforts in support of the Ukrainian army."
- "In the “general south-east” cited by this survey, only 8.4 percent of respondents agree that “Ukraine and Russia should unite into one state”."
- "... Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann described several decades ago as a “spiral of silence”, in her attempt to explain why some groups stay quiet on a particular issue, while others are more vocal."
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6. Andriy Portnov
“The Heart of Ukraine”? Dnipropetrovsk and the Ukrainian Revolution
- "The transformation of Dnipropetrovsk into “the heart of Ukraine” cannot be reduced only to the activities of the governor-oligarch Kolomoisky and the Privat group, although it is connected to them in many ways. Kolomoisky and his team were able to fill the local power vacuum after the Maidan unrest."
- "It was in Dnipropetrovsk that Ukrainian political nationalism has manifested itself most clearly -- the kind of nationalism that does not involve the abandonment of Russian language or identity."
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7. Volodymyr Yermolenko
Russia, zoopolitics, and information bombs
- "Russia’s national coat of arms depicts an eagle with two heads. Russian propaganda, too, is a two-headed beast. A two-faced Janus, it looks in opposing directions, and its contradictory directions show that there is no solid ideological basis for a new Russian project."
- "Russia, on the other hand, operates according to a “lose-lose” logic." ... "So, your primary goal must be to kill, so as not to be killed; to eat, in order not to be eaten."
-"If Russia sees itself not as a country or a nation, but as a specific civilisation, it can present itself as an alternative to Western civilisation."
- "The self-proclaimed states of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Luhansk People’s Republic, Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia are the bomb states that Russia throws out, and their only raison d’�tre is to explode."
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8. Anton Shekhovtsov
The spectre of Ukrainian “fascism”: information wars, political manipulation, and reality
- "The Kremlin’s focus on the Ukrainian far right and its allegedly dominant role in the 2014 revolution was part of an information war intended to delegitimise the opposition to Yanukovych’s regime and, later, the new Ukrainian authorities."
- Far-right parties and organisations were often exploited in different political games, either as “scarecrow” parties or fake opposition, or as private “security firms” employed by more powerful political actors."
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9. Olena Tregub
Do Ukrainians want reform?
- "Reform agenda-setters: government, civil society, and the West."
- "Sociological data confirms that the elite and the public do not share the same reform agenda."
- "The most popular choices were: scrapping MPs’ immunity (58 percent), raising salaries and pensions (51 percent), and scrapping immunity for judges (48.3 percent) and for the president (34.4 percent)."
- "The anti-oligarch movement was also stopped as the oligarchs came to be seen as allies of the state in the war with Russia."
- "Ironically, Ukraine is still a long way from creating the kind of democratic model that the Kremlin clearly fears."
**** ****

10. Serhiy Leshchenko
Sunset and/or Sunrise of the Ukrainian oligarchs after the Maidan?
- "Despite the country’s Revolution of Dignity and continued Russian aggression against Ukraine, local oligarchs have become even more powerful and influential, and pose a significant threat to Ukraine’s European development. Oligarchs control the state apparatus, mass media, and whole sectors of industry."
- "... the traditional oligarchs, who had to share their profits with Yanukovych. Rinat Akhmetov, for instance, was granted control of metallurgy and energy, Igor Kolomoisky had the oil industry, and Dmitry Firtash and Sergei Levochkin controlled the gas, chemical, and titanium sectors."
- "This unofficial pact prevented the eradication of the clans’ wealth-generating systems, traditionally powered by corruption, conspiracy, and crushing competition."
- "... the EU imposed sanctions against 18 individuals who embodied the old regime." ... "Interestingly, none of the influential oligarchs who accumulated wealth during Yanukovych’s reign were on the list."
- "Even with Yanukovych’s people removed from their posts, corrupt courts of justice have continued to pass judgement in the former president’s favour: ..."
- "Compared to 2014, Akhmetov’s influence in parliament has considerably decreased." ... "Some of his long-term allies have defected to the clan of his rival, Ihor Kolomoisky." ... "Today, the oligarch’s main resource is his good relationship with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who has taken no steps in the past year to limit Akhmetov’s voracious appetite."
- [Dmytro Firtash was arrested in Austria at U.S. request, was released on 125 million Euro bail, but U.S. extradition request was denied by Austrian court.]
- "Meanwhile, Firtash continues to wield control over two dozen deputies, including his close business partners, Sergei Levochkin and his sister Yuliya Levochkina, Yuriy Boyko, and Ivan Fursin."
- "Ihor Kolomoisky’s clan significantly increased its sphere of influence after Yanukovych’s fall." ... "Kolomoisky was one of the main beneficiaries of Yanukovych’s regime and even attended the former president’s private birthday celebrations." ... "Kolomoisky has, in other words, been prevented from grabbing even more power; but it is still a key member of the oligarch system which survives intact."
- "This last decade has seen the almost invisible emergence of a new breed of oligarchs in the agrarian sector."
- "The oligarchs’ financial influence over politics must be removed." ... "Financing parties from the state budget and limiting political advertising would be a start, ..." ... "Ukraine should, therefore, create a public state television channel, ..."
- "Equally important is the reform of justice, ..."
- "Therefore, including anti-oligarchic measures in a reform package might well be the greatest service that European institutions could provide to Ukraine."
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About the authors

Petro Burkovsky is an analyst at the National Institute for Strategic
Studies and coordinator of security programmes at the School for
Policy Analysis, Kyiv Mohyla University.

Oksana Forostyna is a journalist, writer and Executive editor for
Krytyka Journal and Critical Solutions, an online media project.
Olexiy Haran is professor of Comparative Politics and Founding
Director of the School for Policy Analysis, Kyiv Mohyla University.

Yaroslav Hrytsak is a Ukrainian historian and essayist, a professor
at the Ukrainian Catholic University (Lviv), and author of several
publications on modern Ukraianian history.

Andrey Kurkov is a Ukrainian novelist, author of 18 novels and
most recently Ukraine Diaries (2014), a first-hand account of the
EuroMaidan, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the uprisings in the

Sergii Leshchenko is a member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
Previously he was an investigative and political journalist and deputy
editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda.

Andriy Portnov is a Ukrainian historian and essayist. He is
currently a visiting professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin.
Anton Shekhovtsov is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Legatum
Institute and a Research Associate at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic
Co-operation in Ukraine.

Olena Tregub is a journalist, educator and civic entrepreneur. She
led the Reform Watch project at the Kyiv Post which analyses
Ukraine’s post-Maidan transformation and now works at the Ministry
of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine.

Andrew Wilson is a senior policy fellow at ECFR and permanent
Reader in Ukrainian Studies at the School of Slavonic and East
European Studies (SSEES), University College London.

Volodymyr Yermolenko is a Ukrainian philosopher, essayist and
an analyst at Internews Ukraine. He teaches at Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
He is the author of two books and dozens of articles published in
Ukrainian and European media.

Tanya Zaharchenko is the 2015 Einstein Fellow at the Einstein
Forum in Potsdam, Germany. Her monograph on cultural memory
and hybridity in contemporary literature of Kharkiv, Ukraine is
forthcoming from CEU Press.

Tatiana Zhurzhenko is Research Director of the Russia in Global
Dialogue Program at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in
Vienna, Austria.