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Aug. 22, 2012, 8:31 p.m. | Editorial — by Kyiv Post

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Kyiv Post

 To mark Ukraine’s 21st birthday, the Kyiv Post would like to take stock of the nation’s fragile statehood.

In short, internal factors still pose the largest threat to sovereignty. Political and government institutions are weak, which is why the transfer of power is always chaotic, and why the rule of law and its application is discretionary and abused by the powers-that-be. Watchdogs say that Ukraine under President Viktor Yanukovych’s rule is swiftly slipping towards an authoritarian regime, being managed by a grouping of corrupt officials and greedy oligarchs much like it was under Leonid Kuchma from 1994 through 2004.

The legislature has been reduced to a rubber-stamp institution. Debate is absent in Ukraine’s parliament. Legislation is adopted by people heavily influenced by vested business interests whose lives – from where and how they live – are different as night and day of the people they represent. If they seek medical care and send their children abroad, how could they be expected to ensure the same services at home?
And corruption continues to enrich those in or close to power at the expense of the public and state budget.

In this cesspool of cronyism, nepotism, choking bureaucracy, kleptocracy and oppression, ordinary Ukrainians remain immobile. They are subject to heightened scrutiny and prejudice when applying for travel visas – whereas the business elite and political leaders keep their money offshore and freely travel to Europe and North America. 

Thus the Ukrainian people today suffer to make ends meet in an oligarch-captured economy that is for the most part monopolistic in the majority of sectors and industries. This means the economy is under-supplied with affordable quality goods because competition is low.

To that end, industry and households are heavily dependent on energy imports, mainly natural gas and nuclear fuel from Russia. Although economically unjustified, Russia is pursuing the South Stream pipeline system which will greatly reduce Ukraine’s geopolitical importance as a transit country.

This leads to Ukraine’s biggest foreign threat – Vladimir Putin-led Russia.

The nation’s former ruler and colonizer has due to President Viktor Yanukovych’s great gas-for-fleet blunder preserved long-term its right to keep a naval base in the constant hotspot Crimean peninsula until 2042. Security experts widely acknowledge that Putin’s Russia is the only country that conducts openly subversive activities in Ukraine. They range from unmitigated distribution of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens, the derailment of NATO and European integration efforts, to NGO funding aimed at promoting the Russian language and culture to the detriment of Ukrainian.

Ukraine is too weak to maintain a neutral military stance yet it does little to modernize and transform its armed forces into a professional, quickly deployable unit. In fact, a booming shadow economy leaves the defense budget and other crucial public services severely under-funded.

Now the Russian lanaguage has legislative backing to squeeze the Ukrainian language out of public use in officialdom, mass media and schools.

Economists and business associations are quick to point out that the business climate is at its worse since 1994. Red tape, raider takeovers and tax pressure discourage markets from opening up and foreign investment from coming in.

Corporate executives and human resource managers complain that the nation’s universities – which have yet to make the global top 500 list of educational institutions – aren’t preparing students for jobs that are supposed to propel the country forward.

Capital flight is rampant, enabled by tax loopholes and outdated treaties with tax haven countries, as is emigration. The gloomy demographic outlook the nation faces is exacerbated by the declining population which stands at 45 million, seven million less than the 1991 independence year. People aren't having children because they don't see a future for themselves.

Yet patriotism is high, at 82 percent, found the Rating polling firm in August. The Euro 2012 European football championship that Ukraine co-hosted with Poland in June showed that Ukrainians are proud, tolerant and freedom-loving.

But self-identity remains murky for many who, according to findings from a June Razumkov Center poll, are overwhelmingly more concerned with unemployment (59 percent), overcoming the economic crisis (52 percent), increasing their salaries, pensions and student stipends (52 percent) and getting cheaper basic goods and services (43 percent).

Language issues ranked 31 on Razumkov’s list of public concerns.

So if Ukraine is leaving a decisive mark on history, it is by becoming the poster child of how not to build a nation. The Ukrainian people deserve better, if not for historical justice after generations of Ukrainians who strove for statehood.

The upside and huge potential is still there.

Ukraine is endowed with plenty of human capital and natural resources to become an economic and political regional player. But no one will respect and treat it as an equal until the nation’s leadership lives up to those expectations.

Happy birthday, Ukraine!

Let’s hope it’s one of your last under kleptocrats and autocrats.

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