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Ukraine’s reforms: Taking off or yet to take off?

Following the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine has put its hopes in a new generation of reformers and seeks to, or rather has to, break free from its corrupt power circles. This was the conclusion reached at a major Chatham House event on Ukraine’s transformation last week, just one day before the UK-Ukraine conference that launched Ukraine`s Reform Action plan 2017-2020. Although the conference began with a negative tone in reference to the ongoing war in the eastern parts of the country, it brightened, looking at the promising future for investors and young professionals in Ukraine.

Does Ukraine matter to Europe? This was the question that seemed to be at the core of the discussions. However, the overall answer to the question was rather mixed. What can and must Ukraine do to become a competitive and advanced European country, rather than a state which needs continuous help while failing to deliver on its own promises?

July 13, 2017 - Agne Dovydaityte - Articles and Commentary

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Towards a brighter future?

Although Ukraine’s finance minister, Oleksandr Danyliuk, was convinced that Ukraine finally took off and is heading towards a brighter future, even if it is slower than some would like, Ron van Rooden from the International Monetary Fund held a slightly different opinion. “Ukraine has to leave the roundabout and move straight with reforms,” he said. Van Rooden stressed that Ukraine has a long way to go to catch up with Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries.  

A survey prepared by Chatham House shows that 18 out of 24 experts believe that the speed of reforms in Ukraine is slow and unsatisfactory, but almost all of them agree that even if slowly, Ukraine is moving in the right direction. Francis Malige, from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, metaphorically described the situation saying that Ukraine has just built a beautiful house and covered the walls with beautiful paintings, but forgot to install running water.

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Even more criticism emerged throughout the discussions, for example, suggesting that the Ukrainian authorities are using the war as an excuse for failed reforms. And issues which discourage investors from coming to Ukraine seem to be corruption related, especially in law enforcement circles. In the survey mentioned above, almost more than half of the experts named vested interests as the main obstacle to reforms whereas Russian aggression was listed by just four out of 24 respondents as the number one problem.

From peacekeeping to “piece keeping”

However, it is undeniable that the war is one of the key problems and no solution is in sight. “Russia poses an existential threat not just to Ukraine, but the whole of Europe,” said Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. She stressed that the roots of the problem are hidden not just in the actions of Russian politicians but also in how pro-Kremlin people see Ukraine and how Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen by them. “[Putin] pretends to be a peacekeeper, but he acts as a ‘piece keeper’ when it comes to Ukraine and other similar nations,” she said.

In spite of Russia’s power, Ukraine is winning, said Tomasz Chłoń of NATO. The Kremlin has already lost its soft power, he argued, which was its secret weapon at the beginning of the conflict. Chłoń puts his hopes in the generation of young professionals who do not remember what it means to be submissive to the stronger power, who watch less television, rely on the internet and are confidently entering the Ukrainian market and politics with fresh ideas and beliefs in a better future.

After discussions on Ukraine’s security, a natural question was posed by the audience. Is there a possibility for Ukraine to join NATO? “That would be impossible,” replied James Sherr, an associate fellow of Chatham House. Sherr argued that Ukraine`s membership in NATO would make neither NATO nor Ukraine safer. He also wished Ukraine to depend less on membership hopes, as the country is already involved in NATO trainings and consultations on the ongoing conflict. Former British defence secretary, Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind agreed, saying that “there is just one thing worse than not giving Ukraine the promise of membership. It is giving it and then not delivering. NATO is not an option now,” he said.

Is anyone doing OK?

Although Eastern Europeans are not always keen to admit that they are actually doing well, some of them, even in Ukraine, have seen improvements in the quality of life. And this again comes back to how quick the youth learn in the new reality, particularly those in the IT sector.

Lenna Koszarny, CEO of Horizon Capital, was very optimistic, saying that Ukraine is heading in the right direction in economic terms. Together with Taras Kytsmey, co-founder of SoftServe, she said that the IT sector in Ukraine is seeing rapid growth. Despite significant investments in non-politicised sectors such as IT or food and agriculture Lenna Koszarny argued that the media coverage of Ukraine is limited to war and corruption and missing out on the success stories. “The train has left the station. How far it goes depends on Ukraine’s access to finance,” she concluded.

Agne Dovydaityte is a freelance journalist and a third year Journalism student at City, University of London. She specialises in Eastern European issues.


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