It has been five years to the day since Ukraine’s ‘Euromaidan’ protest movement began, with anti-government protesters demanding an end to corruption and a closer relationship with the European Union. But what became of the dream?
On the evening of November 21, 2013, pro-West protesters began flocking to Kiev’s Maidan Square, carrying banners and waving EU flags. Hours earlier, then-president Viktor Yanukovych had suspended preparations to sign a European Association Agreement, which would have been a potential step on the road to joining the EU – and a move which Russia had warned would be “trade suicide” for the post-Soviet state. The West, on the other hand, was determined to wrangle Ukraine out of Russia’s “orbit” and lure it into its own.
Ukraine was facing an economic crossroads. The country was being pulled in two directions, asked to choose between closer alignment with the EU or Russia. When Yanukovych chose Russia by refusing to sign the Association Agreement, it sparked outrage within the EU and a protest movement which would quickly be hijacked and used to engineer a Western-backed coup – a shortcut to bringing a pro-West government to power.
Such interference, manipulation and exploitation of Ukraine’s internal political and societal divisions was not without consequences. More than 10,000 died during an insurgency in the eastern regions which began when the ethnic Russian population began to fear it would be swallowed into an anti-Russia nationalist state backed by Western powers. But the West ignored dangerous signs of growing nationalism – and outright Nazi-style fascism – in Ukraine, bargaining that anything was better than Russia ‘winning’ in a game of geopolitical chess.
Five years on, what has become of the protesters’ dreams to rid Ukraine of corruption and build an equal, transparent and functional democracy? The sad answer is that Ukraine’s revolution was a disaster which left the country teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state.
An anti-corruption revolution?
Corruption is still rampant in Ukraine. A recent assessment by the International Monetary Fund suggested that corruption wipes about two percent off the country’s GDP growth per year.
The IMF and World Bank also scolded the Ukrainian government for the “limited results” that have been seen in fighting corruption, with no high-level officials convicted – something which is said to be keeping investors out of the country.
World Bank Country Director for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine Satu Kahkonen said that “governance issues” were forcing investors to steer clear. “It’s basically a high level of corruption and the rule of man instead of the rule of law” that have prevailed in Ukraine, she said. “We’re getting a lot of inquiries from various investors, they come to talk to us, and we see the opportunities in Ukraine, but time after time we hear the concerns about the governance.”
Higher living standards?
Ukraine is also emerging as Europe’s poorest country, with a GDP per capita of just €2,960 – well below Estonia’s €22,420 and Slovenia’s €26,590 GDP per capita.
In fact, according to a recent Credit Suisse report, Ukrainians rank among the world’s poorest people, coming a dismal 123rd out of 140 countries, with the net wealth of the country’s citizens lagging behind Bangladesh and Cameroon. Another recent study by the United Nations Development Program found that, despite continuing economic growth, 60 percent of Ukrainians live below the poverty line.
Less income inequality?
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s richest 100 citizens have seen their wealth increase significantly in the years after the Euromaidan protests. A recent report from the Novoe Vremya magazine showed that the wealth of the country’s richest people is growing 12 times faster than Ukraine’s total GDP. Pro-West President Petro Poroshenko is the country’s sixth richest man, increasing his wealth by 10 percent to about $1.1 billion, all while average Ukrainians see little or no improvement in their own living standards or net wealth.
While some recent reforms in education, pensions and healthcare were welcomed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in its latest country report, there has still been a lack of “meaningful progress” in the reform of governance and an “inefficient court system continues to obstruct the administration of justice.”
Scant attention has also been paid by the Ukrainian government – and Western powers and media – to the increasingly worrying growth of neo-Nazi sentiment in Ukraine. When, in October 2017, Ukraine witnessed its biggest neo-Nazi march in years, Western media all but ignored it. In fact, in deeds and words, Ukraine’s government has almost encouraged this kind of sentiment, by praising as an “inspiration” the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fighters who the Nazi marchers were commemorating. In recent months, mainstream media have done more to acknowledge this creeping fascism in Ukraine, but the admission comes far too late.
On the world stage, too, Ukraine’s pro-West President Petro Poroshenko has faded into near irrelevance, barely acknowledged by US President Donald Trump at recent Armistice Day commemorations in Paris, as geopolitics returned to business-as-usual with Kiev fading from the headlines.