Ukraine will “Make It.” Despite Political and Economic Crisis, a Strange Calm Exists     Print
Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ukraine will make it. Even with all the dire news and statistics pouring out through media about Ukraine, about its economic woes and about the power struggle between Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and President Victor Yuschenko, the country is defying expectations by not falling apart.

In fact, an optimist can argue that the country has succeeded in bottoming out. This is the view of Anders Aslund, a long-time observer of this part of the world, who is now a senior fellow at the prestigious Washington-based Peterson Institute. IMF analysts handling the Ukraine account agree that the country seems to be poised for economic recovery. The missing political piece, they say, is constitutional reform to introduce a more parliamentary government that would transcend the current political stand-off between “pro-Western” and “pro-Russian” factions. If the change occurs, it would open the way to a flow of aid and investment, mainly from the European Union.

Asland contends that this crucial change could be accomplished before the next national election, scheduled for 2010.

In his new book, “How Ukraine Became a Market Economy and Democracy,” Aslund lays out a decidedly upbeat case about why Ukraine is destined for success. Despite the very public internal power struggles and the new impact of the global economic crisis, Ukraine has clung to three pillars of Westernizing change: a market economy, a democratic system and other “European” values, Aslund says, arguing that this overall trend will enable Ukraine to rebound from the troubles that have beset it since the “Orange revolution” in 2004. When asked in a public meeting at the Peterson Institute in February if Ukrainian democracy will be challenged in the next elections, Aslund said flatly “no.” He argued that “constitutional reform is backed by both camps led by the bitter rivals who are leading the nation: Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the likely candidate for 2010, Victor Yanukovych. It is unlikely that current President Victor Yuschenko will stay in power until the elections with only two percent popularity. [Yet] it is strangely calm in Ukraine. There are no massive, explosive protests like in Russia or other surrounding countries” [during the current economic crisis].

In his view, it is a critical juncture for Ukraine, which is widely seen as a major potential flashpoint in Western relations with Russia. To preserve the democratic process in a surprisingly favorable situation, Europe and the United States can make a crucial difference by directing financial help and political backing to Kiev – because, argues Aslund, the system is on the right track there.