By Tymofiy Mylovanov, co-founder and member of the Editorial Board of VoxUkraine; Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh
An offensive in the East of Ukraine launched by Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists, and shelling of Mariupol, exacerbates disillusion of Ukrainians with lack of fundamental changes. writes VoxUkraine’s Tymofiy Mylovanov in his op-ed. He urges, that it is becoming evident that the Ukrainian government is not up to the task of stopping Russia. In order to win, Ukrainian public, business and government should jointly undertake several simple non-military steps to show that Ukraine is gone to the West forever and that there is no going back, regardless of how hard Russia tries, Mylovanov suggests.
Over the last several days, Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists have launched an offensive in the East of Ukraine, taking Donetsk airport and shelling Mariupol. Ukraine has sustained losses and and lost territory. In Mariupol, rockets landed in densely populated neighborhoods (see videos here and here), killing and wounding scores of civilians.
These recent barbarian attacks, together with the history of Russia’s actions over the last year, leave no doubt that Russia will stop at nothing in order to destabilize Ukraine and bring it back under its influence. Russia is ready to sustain loss of life, both Ukrainian and Russian citizens, sanctions and economic crisis, and international isolation.
In order to survive, Ukraine must stop Russia. Victory over Russia must become the highest and the only priority for Ukrainians. A year ago, Yanukovych regime collapsed only because Ukrainians had committed to victory over Yanukovych. The enemy Ukrainians face today is much more formidable, but it has become clear that negotiations, treaties, and deals will lead to nowhere and the enemy will not stop until Ukraine ceases to exist.
It is also clear that Ukrainians cannot expect meaningful support from the West and the international community more generally. Diplomatic statements will be issued, UN Security Council meetings will be called, legislative acts passed, and more promises of financial and other aid given. Yet, almost a year into the military conflict with Russia, Ukraine is still to receive substantive military and economic support from other countries. Unfortunately, in its fight with Russia, Ukraine is almost on its own.
Let’s also be honest to ourselves and admit that the Ukrainian government is not up to the task of stopping Russia. The government does not control the course of events, myopically focusing on immediate and urgent problems, and postpones developing its capacity and conducting fundamental reforms. It is not even clear if the leaders of the country understand what’s required of them – the government has failed to communicate to the public any clear ideology or systemic approach required in the times of this crisis. In short, the leadership of the country does not lead.
More than that, the government and the parliament are losing legitimacy and public support, which further limits their ability to influence the events. Ukrainians are becoming disillusioned by lack of fundamental changes, absence of investigation into the murders on Maidan and in Odesa, slow, if any, prosecution of corrupt officials, accusations of new corruption, blatant violations of the rule of the legislative process in the Parliament, and alleged infighting within different branches of the government. The business is worried about increased tax burden, collapse of the financial system, and possible default.
What should Ukraine do to win? First, we start by getting clear that Russia’s goal is to force the Ukrainian government into submission or replace the current Ukrainian government with another government it can control. More generally, it would like to teach the Ukrainian public that they should give up and that democracy and the prospect of joining the EU in the future is not on the table.
In order to win, Ukraine should convince Russia that it is has become a true and stable pro-EU democracy and that there is no going back, regardless of how hard Russia tries. Simultaneously, Ukraine should provide economic incentives for Russia to end the conflict.
These are 6 steps for Ukraine to prevail over Russia, and most of them are not military ones:
- Ukrainian public should continue to insist on transparency of the Ukrainian government so that secret deals between Russian regime, oligarchs in Ukraine and Russia, and Ukrainian government become impossible. (A year after Maidan, where is the transparency and accountability of the Naftagaz activities? Why was the 2015 budget prepared in secrecy and passed with such urgency? Why doesn’t the government communicate its anti-crisis strategy, if it has any, to the public?)
- The government should bring in the government, agencies, military, etc., as many Western-leaning, Western-lived, Western-trained professionals as humanely possible, and fire, without hesitation, most or all of the old guard.
- Sell the assets of interest for Russia to the Western companies (think pipelines, large manufacturing, critical military production lines, etc.), weaken the business prospects of Russia-leaning oligarchs, introduce visas and prohibitive import/export duties with Russia, and provide incentives for the businesses to reorient themselves to the West.
- Default on Russian bonds and sue Russia in English courts for being a vulture creditor. Restructure the rest of the financial obligations excluding Russia from the bargaining table.
- Arrest and prosecute, or at least fire for incompetence and inaction. It is the time of war!
- Do substantive reforms – clean up Naftogaz; negotiate EU buying gas at Ukraine-Russian border; give Europeans a stake in transit facilities (truba); secure general property rights in Ukraine; address systemic risks due to the loss of assets in the East; focus on the security of the financial system; cut inefficient spendings and reduce taxation burden; open up markets for FDI in all possible ways and close the markets for oligarchs and Russians; cut privileges everywhere; provide security to vulnerable; increase salaries in the government to attract pros; outsource every function possible to the foreigners – judicial, privatization, etc; change legislation to make it easier for the US and other authorities to prosecute corruption using foreign legal systems; allow the public to sue the government for corruption; and sue oligarchs in foreign courts.
Ukrainians must rise united and face the aggressor, as they did a year ago, without waiting for the West or the government, and show the world that the Russian King is naked.