Ukraine at Twenty: How Strong is the Young State? How Resilient Society?

October 31, 2011 // 12:00pm1:00pm

“Today’s Ukraine is characterized by continuing dysfunction, and we see a déjà vu of the Yushchenko and even Kuchma eras,” said James Greene, President, Effective Engagement Strategies and former NATO Representative in Kyiv at a 31 October 2011 Kennan Institute event “Ukraine at Twenty: How Strong is the Young State? How Resilient Society?” In his presentation, Greene examined Ukraine’s current ability to effectively mobilize its strategic resources—both internally and externally—for survival and development after 20 years of independence.

Conflict between Ukrainian elites is heating up in the wake of unpopular economic reforms, and the sentencing of former prime-minister Yulia Tymoshenko to 7 years in prison. Now comes a critical moment for the country to mobilize for survival, according to the speaker. Greene cited the mobilization of resources, as well as the strengthening of political will and institutional capacity, as the main elements for successful Ukrainian development. He emphasized the need to improve the functioning of various institutions, which today are based on corruption and lack of transparency. Such improvements are especially needed in light of the recent significant decline in support for President Victor Yanukovych. “There is a buzz in society today for who is next,” Greene said, but a change will not come in the form of a new “Orange Revolution.”

Corruption and other negative tendencies in Ukraine’s political class in Ukraine have nevertheless caused the mobilization of certain social groups—for example, when entrepreneurs stood for their rights during the so-called “Tax Maydan,” and currently, as Afghan veterans and Chernobyl survivors protest pension cuts. Ukraine also cannot forget to engage its allies, which in practical terms is the application of other nations’ resources. However, Greene emphasized that in Ukraine’s case, both historically and today, Russian support comes at the expense of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Assessing the situation in Ukraine after 20 years of independence, Greene highlighted the importance of a certain social phenomenon: various religious, economic and political groups in Ukraine that are well-incorporated into society can coexist peacefully and could eventually promote de-monopolization of the political infrastructure. “Such diversity,” Green asserted, “puts the responsibility on the leader of Ukraine for maintaining state unity.”

Another feature of Ukraine is that a pro-Western and pro-democratic “expert” class coexists with a ruling political elite that possesses Soviet-style views. Greene concluded that while there is widespread frustration over the political elite in Ukraine, the West needs to focus more on Ukrainian society, its expert community, and educational circles, which very much want Ukraine to succeed.

By Natalia Jensen
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute

James Greene has studied and worked with and in Ukraine for much of the past two decades, beginning with research on civil-military relations in 1991-92 and most recently as chief of diplomatic mission for the NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine from 2004-2009. He currently advises projects related to national security and democratic development in Ukraine and in Egypt, provides strategic consultancy to international business projects, and is a senior advisor to the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council.

The Kennan Institute speaker series is made possible through the generous support of the Title VIII Program of the U.S. Department of State.

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Event Speakers List: 
  • President, Effective Engagement Strategies and former NATO Representative, Kyiv, Ukraine
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