Ukraine: A Captured State?

How to Put the Country Back onto the Path to Reform

26/05/2016 | 09:49 | DGAP Berlin | Invitation only

Expert Round Table

Category: Ukraine

Fundamental changes have been underway in Ukraine since the Maidan Revolution of 2013–14, but intransigence in the administration and self-serving interests of economic and political elites impede the progress of reform. Stronger pressure from civil society and external actors such as the EU and the US could help foster a transition to genuine democracy. The conference held on May 26 in Berlin devoted particular attention to the current state of reforms and their prospects of success.

The conference consisted of three panel discussions.

Panel 1 addressed the impact on reforms of the close connections between Ukrainian politics and business.

Nataliia Shapoval of the NGO VoxUkraine stated that a comprehensive transition is underway in Ukraine’s administration, judiciary, and economy. It is based on social pressure exerted in the wake of the Maidan Revolution as well as on turnover in Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada. The parliament itself has undergone positive changes, according to Shapoval. Indeed, a whole group of reform-oriented civil society and Maidan activists won seats in the parliamentary elections of October 2014.  However, far too often, Ukrainian civil society must fill in for the non-functioning state in many spheres such as refugee support and the initiation of reforms.

Roman Romanov of the Renaissance Foundation in Kiev named the EU’s limited engagement as an important factor hindering legal reforms. More technical help and guidance from the EU is needed. Rather than try to approach all spheres simultaneously, the EU should support for specific projects. It can also help strengthen the faith in the constitutional state within society as well as in the judiciary itself. The EU can also deepen the general understanding that corruption brings negative consequences for everyone and can only be fought through constitutional means.

Oligarchs remain key figures in Ukrainian politics and business. In her presentation on the interaction of economic actors, DGAP Associate Fellow Iryna Solonenko recommended, first, that EU politicians speak directly with the oligarchs and take them more seriously as actors with leverage and, second, that the pressure on them be increased, for example by requiring greater disclosure about their international holdings and bank accounts abroad. The goal is to uncouple Ukraine’s political life from its economy, not to force the country’s major economic actors into exile.

Panel 2 explored ways of facilitating successful structural transition.

John Lough of Chatham House highlighted that Ukraine must compete for the EU’s attention with other topics and countries. Improving communication and enhancing the quality of reforms is therefore important. Yulia Andrusiv, Robert Bosch fellow at Chatham House, described the need not only to establish a much higher level of EU conditionality toward Ukraine but also to develop new proposals for winning over Ukrainian society to the reform process. Wilfried Jilge of the DGAP stated that he favored the establishment of hybrid courts (with the help of the EU) in which grave human rights violations and corruption cases would be tried under supervision of legal experts and judges from the EU. Such a measure could give fresh impetus to the judiciary, where reforms are currently stagnating. All of the panelists agreed that improving coordination between the EU and Ukrainian civil society was essential to the success of the reform process.

Panel 3 asked what lessons could be drawn from the reform experiences of Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova

Experts from Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia shared the experiences of their own respective countries with reform processes over the last 25 years. Although there are a number of similarities in the strategies pursued by the EU, the US, and Russia toward these countries, the reform situations nevertheless differ from the current situation in Ukraine; every country needs an individual approach. All three panelists emphasized, however, that a successful reform process in Ukraine would send an enormously powerful signal to their own countries.

The event took place within the framework of the annual joint DGAP-Chatham House Conference, which is organized by the Russia/Eurasia Program of Chatham House and the DGAP’s Robert Bosch Centre for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.

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